Monday, September 3, 2018

When Your Husband Leaves the Ministry

The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.”

The church in North Idaho was filled with an air of expectancy as we waited to hear the last guest speaker that evening.   Missions conferences were popular events in the 70's and our church was growing with enthusiastic new converts eager to hear how God was working in the world.   A revival was sweeping across the country in those days and the Lord had saved me and my husband three years earlier.   

Reports from foreign missionaries had captivated us all week as the man from the Africa Inland Mission wrapped things up.   Robert and I were just sure he was looking right at us when he pointed at the congregation and thundered,   “If not you, who?  If not now, when?”    We were ready to grab the baby and head straight to Africa but our pastor explained that it didn’t work that way.    Robert had two years of undergraduate studies but would need to get additional training at a Bible college.  Six months later we moved to Spokane and started classes at Moody Bible Institute (formerly IESB).

While my husband worked ridiculously long hours plodding through four more years of college,   I attended part time, took care of babies, and learned to squeeze a nickel till it bled.   We were excited about serving the Lord and eager to see where He would lead us.  
At first we seriously considered New Tribes Missions and visited their training camp in Oregon.  But then the Lord opened a door for us to work with an inner city mission church and we ended up staying in the states.   
In the long run, things didn't turn out quite the way we had hoped.  Twenty years and three senior pastorates later, my husband wrestled with the toughest decision he had ever made and resigned from the ministry. 
A Common Problem

We didn’t realize it at the time, but ours was not a unique situation.    According to FASICLD (Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development) researcher Dr. Richard J. Krejcir:  
“Over 70% of [evangelical and Reformed] pastors are so stressed out and burned out that they regularly consider leaving the ministry and thirty-five to forty percent of pastors actually do leave the ministry, most after only five years.” 1
Research shows a laundry list of reasons why pastors throw in the towel: Unreasonable expectations of the pastor and his family,   conflict with leadership or parishioners, doctrinal disputes,   inadequate training,   marital problems,  and sometimes  moral failure.  But another prominent factor is financial hardship.

 “The National Association of Church Business Administration reported that as of 2012… the average U.S. pastor makes about $28.000 per year…  If we look at most pastors, about 80% of them work full time in the ministry and they draw roughly $28,000 to $42,000 per year.” 2  
Though larger churches are able to provide their pastors with a comfortable salary, they only account for a small percentage of churches.    The National Congregations Study reported 59% of churches have between 7-99 attendees.

“Despite the recent proliferation of very large Protestant churches we call megachurches….the average congregation had just 75 regular participants.”  3

Low pay and understaffed churches often mean a pastor must work two jobs besides multi-tasking at church, which can create an unsustainable workload leading to burn-out.    

Financial stress was the reason why my husband retired from full time ministry in the late 90’s, which was the year our eldest child married.  He was nearing fifty and was too burnt out to continue working two jobs while dealing with all the pressures of full time ministry.    Offers came to candidate elsewhere but being exhausted and discouraged we chose not to uproot our family again. 

Though leaving full-time ministry was difficult, God’s grace was sufficient for us.   The Lord is sovereign and my husband’s exit from the pastorate did not throw a wrench in the eternal works of Heaven.  Nor did it prevent us from continuing to serve the Lord in other capacities. 

Your Work Is Not Over

If your husband has been faced with the difficult decision of leaving full time ministry and switching careers, may I offer a few suggestions? 
1.     While he may initially feel relieved from the stress,  your husband may never fully recover from the loss.  There's a certain kind of grief a man feels when he commits himself to lifelong ministry and has to resign. Pray that his discouragement won’t cause him to stumble.  Encourage him to continue serving Christ because God is not finished with him yet.

2.    If you have children, nurture the spiritual life in your home because the negativity involved in some of these situations can have a lasting impact on our kids.    It’s important for our children to see we have not abandoned the  faith or the  church. 

3.     If your husband was wronged by someone try to let it go and move on.   Some things will have to wait until the next life to be made right.  If you allow bitterness to take hold it will poison you and those around you.  

4.    You may feel as low as a toad but keep your eyes on the Lord.  Don’t even think about dropping out of church.    Find someone you can talk to who will encourage you.   We need loving mature believers to come alongside us in times like these.   

5.    Please don’t believe your labors were in vain.  God’s Word can accomplish great things in the lives of people you have ministered to, even though you may not realize it now. 

6.    You will both need time to recover and refresh but don’t rest on your laurels for too long.   Look for new opportunities to serve the Lord.   God  will provide them when we’re willing.    My husband has continued to serve in the church in various leadership capacities and  still preaches occasionally.   His experiences as lead pastor have certainly been put to good use. 
Simply put, we need to dust ourselves off and get back in the saddle.   Whether a man is in the pulpit or the pew, every believer is called to share the gospel with a lost world and to make disciples. 





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