Resignation Fever

March 22, 2006

Earlier today I received word regarding a friend who serves on the staff of a local church. After only a few months on the job, he resigned yesterday. While there were various factors involved, it came down to the fact that he and the senior pastor did not see eye to eye on some important issues. He plans to stay on the job for a few more months, but reality may dictate a quicker exit.
Not many days ago someone approached me to talk about a pastor friend who is in trouble in his church. When I asked if anyone has talked to the pastor directly, the answer was no. The reasons for the dissatisfaction came down finally to something involving his family and something involving his preaching. Does my friend know of the dissatisfaction with his ministry? I imagine the answer is yes, but I can’t be certain because I haven’t spoken to him in quite a while.
Almost everywhere I go, I talk to pastors who are frustrated and church members who are upset. It’s hard to quantify these things, and I do not think that it’s harder to be in the ministry today than it was five hundred years ago. It’s not like Martin Luther had an easy time of it. Jonathan Edwards, arguably the greatest theologian America has produced, was voted out of his own church. As Howard Hendricks says, if you’re going to be a shepherd, you’re going to get sheep dung on your sandals. Call it an occupational hazard. And sometimes ugly things happen that embarrass us all. There’s no fight like a church fight.
We hear a lot of talk about church politics and how people hate it. Well, I don’t like it very much either for a lot of reasons, but politics is nothing but the science of human relationships applied in a group setting. If you have two people, you have politics. Just ask any married couple. And when you have 300 people, you have a lot of politics. It grows exponentially as churches get larger. You can’t get around it.
Sometimes people inside the church are misguided. Sometimes they are unfair. In January I was asked to speak at the Olford Center for Biblical Preaching on “Lessons Learned Along the Way.” I began by asking if it is harder to be a pastor today. My basic answer was no, but I do think that ministers today face some unique challenges. Churches are more competitive today. The Internet has made it possible to hear thousands of preachers in thousands of churches and compare them directly. And the pace of cultural change has unsettled many long-established traditions. It’s hard to sort out what should stay and what needs to change. And who should lead the change and how fast you should go. I told the folks at the Olford Center that I think expectations are higher today than they were 30 years ago and patience in the pew is lower. The result is an epidemic of resignation fever.
Perhaps I am not the one to speak about this since I felt led to resign my own church last September and move on to whatever God has in store for us next (a still-unfolding plan, by the way). But then perhaps my own experience allows me to share this story. Within the last week an earnest, godly young man shared with me his displeasure over the church politics he had observed first hand. “Why would anyone want to go into the ministry when you see how churches treat people?”
My answer was simple. You go into the ministry because God called you, and you stay there because the joy of seeing lives changed by the power of God outweighs the trouble you will inevitably face. It’s a matter of relative values. I am not “down” on the local church in any way, shape or form. The church of Jesus Christ is still the best hope of the world. Though filled with fallible men and women who make many mistakes (leaders included), the church is the body of Christ on earth, the temple of the Holy Spirit, the pillar and ground of the truth, and the repository of the Good News of Jesus. The church (not the building or the organization, but the people as the redeemed children of God) is the place where sinners are saved, broken people are made whole, and the life of Jesus is made visible to the watching world.
If you focus on the problems of the local church, you’ll probably stop going and you’ll certainly resign from the ministry. But if you look at what God is doing, you’ll smile and say, “This is the best place in the world.”

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