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August 9, 2012

I Quit!

Moving on from ministry



When my daughter was 9, she and I were working on her homework together. She had to write a sentence using the word exhausted. She came up with this: “When my mom comes home from work, she is exhausted.” Seriously. Ouch. Now, I worked out of the home two only days a week—so twice a week, apparently, I walked in complaining of a headache and my level of tiredness. That concerned me for a couple of reasons.

First, I want my daughter to grow up knowing she can do for a living whatever she wants to do—whatever she feels God leads her to do—even if it means working outside the home at some point in her life. So it pained me that, despite how much I loved my job, all she knew was that it wore me down.

Second, I had just returned from a vacation. The vacation in and of itself was all fine and good, but re-entry was hard to say the least. In the past, when I’d been gone that long from home and work, I would come back refreshed and could hardly wait to turn on my computer and jot down all the ideas I was struck with while away. But I didn’t come home nearly as refreshed as I would have hoped, I barely gave my job a passing thought, and I came back completely idea-less. Except to entertain the concept of what my life would be like if I weren’t working, something I had never considered. My daughter’s insight into that part of my life wedged itself into my mind and I couldn’t shake it loose.

This led to many questions.

How do you know when to walk away from something?

When something really good just isn’t the best for you?

When something that used to be God’s will for you has ceased being God’s current will for you?

What would happen if I just stopped?

Right around that time, I’d been thinking a lot about moving more slowly. How I ran through my days. How I’d been running through my kids’ childhood. How Jesus calls us to give him our burdens and promises in exchange he will give us rest. To quote author and speaker Keri Wyatt Kent, Jesus never said to us, “Get over here! I have a lot for you to do!” I laughed loudly when she said that. Maybe because it resonated so deeply, maybe because deep down I had actually been believing it.

A good Christian woman serves God. That’s what we’re supposed to do. But are we supposed to run ourselves into the ground? Did I want my children, my daughter especially, equating ministry with exhaustion and meetings and tasks that didn’t really fit who I was anymore?

I had the privilege to go away alone for two days to think all this through. I spent the first day reading my journals from the previous year. If you’re not a journal writer or even only a sporadic one, no big deal, right? But if you’re like me, a fairly faithful everyday journal keeper, well, that’s another story. It took me nine hours to read them. (And I even knew how everything was going to turn out!) When I was finished I had a headache and I was depressed. Why? Because a theme had bubbled to the surface for me in that marathon reflection. Innumerable times I had written something like “I’m low-energy this morning” or “wish I could stay here on the couch in my jammies today…that’s not gonna happen for another week or so.” And it made me sad. It made me sad to think I had filled that past year of my life with activities, many of them that apparently I no longer enjoyed, that I no longer found fulfilling, that just didn’t fit me or my season of life anymore. I was running. But for what? For whom?

If I actually believed I’d been doing all that I was doing to please God, well, I think I had another thing coming. Because to be truthful, I couldn’t even remember the last time I had handed God my day or my agenda and just asked him what he wanted me to be doing. I’d been doing what I’d been doing for so long, and it finally started to sink in that what I was doing and who I wanted to be no longer matched up. I’d been round-hole/square-pegging it for a while. Longer than I wanted to admit. Longer than I maybe even knew.

So I sat with my questions. I asked God if I could stop, if that’s what he wanted for me. I asked for wise counsel from friends who knew me well, from my boss, from my therapist. I read Scripture. I tried to listen for God’s voice in each interaction. I journaled. I took long walks. I thought, I prayed, I waited.

I came to the place of allowing myself to realize and remember that God had called me to an abundant, free, joyful life, not a packed-out, constricting, complain-y, busy one full of activities that I just endured or that sometimes even made me cringe. And this was the best part: Bottom- line, my Heavenly Father was going to love me no matter what. Even if I stopped.

And one morning I outright asked him, “May I quit my job?” with tears running down my face. His gentle response: “Yes. And I will still love you.”

So I did. The very next morning, I walked into my office at church and told my boss and two of my co-workers that I was clearly feeling it was time to step down from my position. I gave six weeks’ notice and began all the wrapping-up work of finishing well a job that I had poured my heart and soul into for four years. And over those weeks of saying goodbye to my work, my colleagues, and my volunteers (though I stayed at the church after I left), mixed with sadness was utter relief. I experienced a peace and a burden being lifted off my shoulders.

I had never planned to leave that job, but it was time and I knew it. God had another person for that position and he had many other things for me as well. I was in a posture of availability for all that God had for me.

So think about it. Are you running too hard, too fast, through your life? Are you stuck in a rut? Has your gift mix shifted? Is your passion area no longer what’s in front of you? Do you wish you could be doing something else, anything else?

Consider stopping, breathing, resting, finding the real you underneath it all, asking God what you should be filling your time with. He will answer when you call.

“Give me insight so I can do what you tell me—my whole life one long, obedient response (Psalm 119:33, MSG).


Elisabeth K. Corcoran started and led the women’s ministry at her church for ten years, then went on to other church ministry roles. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and the author of five books, including At the Corner of Broken & Love: Where God Meets Us in the Everyday (Westbow).

Related Tags: break, exhaustion, leaving, ministry, quitting, rest

Comments

Ah, yes. This is what might be called a "First World Problem." I don't think anyone in the Third World would think to ask, "Should I step away from my job/ministry?"

I'm sure there's real angst behind the question, but for many of us, we can't even afford to entertain the question.
It's a luxury angst.

There is a real problem in the "church-world" with not separating God's love from our "effort" or what we do. Hence the book of James. He loves us in spite of our do or don't do, but I don't want Him to love me in spite of anything. I know I don't need to earn His love, but I do what I do because of His love.

This article feeds the mentality that the Body of Christ is a cruise ship & we're passengers (because I don't have to work to earn His love) except for the few that are "supposed" to do the work. Somebody said it's actually a battleship. Christians aren't passengers. Where is His Lordship when we stay or leave based on our "happiness". For the joy set before Him Jesus endured the cross. Time for more Christians to get out of the dining room and into the kitchen.

Jesus said come to me if you are weary and I'll give you rest. When we do that, we don't necessarily need to leave the work of the ministry. We will never become what Jesus envisioned if we step down or move every time we get weary with the work of ministry.

I'm shocked at the two responses I've read here.

God calls people to works and He calls them to stop, and one of the ways we can know that it his call to us is changing is when we no longer have a passion for what we do.

Elizabeth isn't saying she's not going to continue to serve God; she's saying this particular way of serving God is no longer her call. God had already prepared another person for that position and had Elizabeth stayed in it, she would have been outstaying her assigned time, and preventing the other person from stepping into their new season. This is already a big problem in the Church worldwide. Many people whom God has raised up to begin a ministry, or take it to a new level, do what they've been called to do but then refuse to let it go out of some misplaced sense of responsibility or duty, and though they generally don't admit it, they also keep a hold of it out because it's where they're getting their identity from, instead of getting their identity from being in Christ. The result is great works going stale and dry, and new workers languishing for lack of opportunity.

The Church suffers from people who keep on doing what they always did, just because they always did it. When we are willing to let go because God is showing us through the waning of His infusion of passion that we had at other times, we not only make room for His choice for the next season, we also make room for His choice for our new season.

To call this a 'first world problem' is scathing indeed. Even those of us who work in developing countries need to know when our season is finishing. Anyone who isn't willing to allow themselves to listen to the signs in their own hearts and circumstances will hold on beyond what they're called to... and thus begin to serve their ministry instead of serving their God.

Elizabeth... when you faithfully release what you've been building to a new worker, God knows that you're a steward and not an empire builder. He loves that you are willing to obey ... to take up and to put down. Bless you..

The Bible is full of examples of people who served God in one capacity or one area for a period of time, and then moved on. The nature of the work didn't change, but the location did. Jesus didn't stay in Nazareth as a carpenter for his entire life. Although his purpose and calling remained the same, he lived it out in a variety of circumstances. Paul travelled from town to town fulfilling God's call on his life, and he even recorded for us a specific example of how God changed his path in ministering to the people of Mesopotamia. However, the motivation behind these changes wasn't "I'm tired" or "I don't have passion for this any more". Every move and change was done through a daily, vibrant relationship with God, so that they could clearly hear God leading them from one opportunity to another. That is our failing today, in every country of the world: we fail to walk vibrantly close enough to God that we can sense His leading and hear His voice. Even Jesus became exhausted. That wasn't a sign that he needed to quit his ministry; it was a sign that he needed to retreat to the hills to be alone with his Father.

I agree with the writer, it is wisdom to be sensitive to our ministry jobs beginnings and endings. God does care about our pleasure and joy in serving him and his people, so the idea of using that inner pleasure as a way to check our temperature for a certain job is totally valid.
Yes, there are moments in every ministry that are tough and not fun, but most of us can tell that situation from the long-term sense that it is time for a new assignment or a rest from any assignment for a time.
Loved this article, blessings to the writer in all she does or does not do!
Susie

When I first read the title of the blog I expected Elizabeth to mention Geri Scazzaro's recent book, I QUIT. This is an excellent book for someone who is ready to quit the church (unlike Elizabeth)because of the stress on family, etc. Geri of course is a pastor's wife who didn't anticipate the stress of such a journey--who can first time around? I too am a pastor's wife who has been very involved with ministry in the church and loved it. Yet, God clearly moved me into a different place which stretched me even further! Geri's book helps us think through issues in our relationships that will result in greater emotional and spiritual health (two different things). It's worth a read--either preventatively, or once you're ready to quit ministry. THANKS Elizabeth!

Great article. The issue was about quitting a ministry assignment, not the church. She continued to attend her church.

Elizabeth, thanks SO much for your honest article. I think many women in leadership ask this question, but are afraid of the responses from others. Thanks for being willing to ask it out loud, and thanks for letting the rest of us benefit from your wisdom.

This article is really inciteful. To many times people can't let go because he/she fear being forgotten. One must remember that God never forgets us, and He knows when a person needs to rest or move on. One of the hardest task for many believers is to wait on the Lord. I am a minister. In the past when I joined a church, the pastor usually wants to assign a ministry to me. He or she never ask "What has God assigned you to do?" I kept allowing myself to pulled into this trap. Each time I felt pressured, almost to the point of exploding (usually I leave the church). Now, I realize that my director is God and not a human. The pastor has to get use to not trying to micro-manage God's business. Now I simply say "NO".

Thank you so much for this article. It was God-timed. I have struggled with giving up a particular ministry that I felt called to at one time. The time has passed and it's time for me to move on to another area of ministry in my church and to my family. There will be many seasons of ministry in a person's life. It's a new season for me. Thank you, again.

I too am shocked by the first two comments. SallyB, I think you really misunderstand what Elisabeth is talking about. She's not quitting her position so she can sit on the couch and watch TV! She's feeling God move her into another role, a different sort of ministry. That's not a "first world problem," it's listening to God. And I think plenty of ministers in the Developing World ask that, and respond to it, if that's where God leads. And David, really? We're supposed to separate God's love from our efforts? That's interesting theology. Have you really thought it through. But I think we cannot separate any part of our life from God's love. Again, she's not saying she's no longer going to serve God, she's stepping out of a particular role that God obviously had someone else in mind for.

Thank you so much for this article. My husband and I were thrust into leading the church after the death of the founder.Young as we were, we took up the role. We faced so many challenges, and despite our zeal and efforts, the ministry has struggled to stand. There are many factors that led to this, and we now realise that sometimes it is even best to fold a ministry and start again. Refocus on where God really wants you to be and understand the seasons and the times. Although it hurts to walk away from active ministry, nothing is more important than our relationship with the Lord.

Bravo! God does not necessarily call us to do the same thing in the same place forever. Maybe more people would volunteer for ministry work if they were not made to feel like it was a life-long appointment!

BRAVO! God does not necessarily call us to do the same thing in the same place forever. Maybe more people would volunteer for ministry work if they were not made to feel like it was a life-long appointment! So true about pastors trying to direct members into areas where the feel help is needed, not neccessarily where members feel called to serve! Just say NO.

Thank you, Elisabeth! My favorite part (so thank you for including it, because you wouldn't have to) is, "And one morning I outright asked him, 'May I quit my job? with tears running down my face. His gentle response: 'Yes. And I will still love you.'" I needed to hear that.
The first two responses are part of the reason some of us stick with jobs for too long. "People will not understand or think I'm lazy or think I'm a princess!"
Your daughter may never thank you for quitting your job, but you'll know you did the right thing for your family. And you have peace that you really were seeking God's direction in that decision.
God bless you!

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