Stop the merry-go-round – I want to get off !
We hear a lot about ‘the new normal’ as we continue to experience the pandemic and come to grips with the new COVID variant, Omicron. A big feature of this ‘new normal’ is the number of people who are no longer wanting to go back to full-time (or any) employment, opting for a career change or a change to no career at all. The Church is not immune to this new trend.
An alarming report just produced by The Barna Group, which is the U.S’s foremost researcher on religion shows that two out of five pastors nationwide (in the U.S.) are seriously thinking about quitting the ministry.
“We found a sub-group analysis that pastors in the ministry for 20 years or more were more likely to tell us they were considering quitting,” said David Kinnaman, president and CEO of The Barna Group. “Also, younger pastors under 45 were the most likely to say they were considering quitting.” While studying the well-being of pastors, Barna Research found that 38 percent of pastors want to quit compared with 29 percent in January of 2021.
Also, church attendance has softened quite a bit since the pandemic started. “During and after the pandemic, one-third of practicing Christians disengaged from their congregation – just sort of stopped showing up.” Kinnaman said. These are alarming statistics, and there is no reason to believe that they are confined to the United States.
Many pastors and leaders in the UK have found the strains of leading during lockdown and the thought of getting back into in-person ministry to be too challenging to bear.
So what can be done?
Should leaders just ‘suck it up and get on with it?’ Should they just give in to their desire to quit? Here are three perspectives to help all those who are considering getting off the merry-go-round:
It is not your responsibility to haul your church or ministry out of spiritual slumber on your own.
Lockdown has caused many ministries in the church to either stop completely, or to switch to online ministry. Online ministry has its good points – people can still see each other and pray together, but without the risk of infection; when the meeting is finished you can terminate your involvement at the press of a button; you can be involved in the meeting whilst on ‘mute’ and without a video transmitting a picture of yourself, enabling you to ‘zone out’ from time to time without being noticed.
Returning to in-person meetings and activities can often leave the leader with the sense of having a mountain to climb – how to reengage people to be physically, mentally and emotionally present, rather than ‘on mute’ and emotionally/spiritually disengaged? The truth is, this ‘mountain’ is not the sole responsibility of the leader. It begs an honest conversation with those in the group/church for us all to take responsibility. We all have responsibility to end whatever spiritual slumber we find ourselves in. The leader needs to be honest with the group/congregation about this and about their own struggles with this.
It is an opportunity to assess, not whether you should stay in ministry, but how you should stay in ministry.
For many leaders, the struggle is the thought of getting back into what things used to be like – the late nights, the interpersonal conflict, the overwhelming sense of responsibility etc. The return to in-person ministry gives the opportunity to rewrite this story. Don’t just get on the same old merry-go-round and press the ‘go’ button once more – regard this as a unique opportunity to rewrite what ministry looks like, not just for you, but for everyone.
Are there activities that, to be honest, we were just doing because we have always done them?
Are there expectations that we were struggling to live up to before the lockdown that make us feel just desperate at the thought of coming under them again?
Are you struggling with the thought of multiple late nights each week?
Who says you have to just get back to all of that? ‘Business as usual’ no longer exists…unless you allow it to. Be bold! Be adventurous! This is the opportunity to step out and reshape your ministry – it’s not about whether you do it, it’s about how you do it!
You need fresh exposure to life change.
Looking back, why was it that you got into ministry in the first place? For most of us, it was to see lost people saved and redeemed, lives changed, purpose replacing aimlessness. That’s what we need to prioritise getting back to, rather than to the meetings, the conflicts, the energy sapping busyness.
Prioritise getting alongside people who are genuinely being impacted by the Gospel. Refresh yourself in this. Since churches started meeting together in-person in the UK a few months ago, the church I pastor (Kingfisher Westgate) has had three baptism services – times of absolute joy as people declare their faith in Jesus Christ through being baptised. This has refreshed and encouraged me and caused me to remember – this is why I became a pastor!
Prioritise fresh exposure to life change and it will cause you to remember and be freshly encouraged and enthused about what ministry is really all about.
Lastly – find a leader and encourage them.
Let’s recognise that other leaders need encouraging and so let’s go out of our way to get alongside another leader and pray for them, pray with them and seek for ways of encouraging them to step back into this great calling.
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29, NLT)