UPDATE: I’ve written several things convincing myself to stay. Here’s one of my favorites: Thomas Merton and the Greener Grass That Wasn’t.
UPDATE II: Here’s another one: When Loving You is Killing Me.
I suppose every person in ministry is strongly tempted to quit from time to time. Not quit as in “send out a resume, start looking for a job” quit, but “walk out today” quit.
I’ve got a pastor friend who fought with his church for most of two decades about fundamental decisions about the church’s future. No one paid much attention, and one Sunday he preached what was on his heart (as we say in Southern Baptist land), closed his Bible and walked out the center aisle, out the front door, never to come back to that pulpit. He never regretted it, and he was satisfied he’d done the right thing.
I tend to believe he did, but most of the time I’ve entertained that same fantasy, I can’t say it would have been the right thing to do. I’ve known several ministers who quit on the spot (or close enough to it that it felt the same.) I can’t say they were doing the right thing.
One pastor I worked with for several years got into a tug-of-war with his worship leader over choosing hymns. The pastor wanted to choose them. The worship leader felt it was his job. The deacons asked the pastor to work with the worship leader. Instead, the pastor resigned. I’m pretty sure that was just stubbornness and pity. “I’ll show them what happens when you don’t support me,” he was probably thinking.
For every Christian who quits a responsibility on the spot, there’s probably two that should have quit long ago. I don’t hold it against them at all. But I’m distressed about those Christians who are seduced by the allure of trading a good name for the momentary power over others available to the person who quits on the spot.
When I came to work today, I learned that one of my co-workers had quit unexpectantly. No warnings. Just a phone call in the middle of a faculty meeting. Suddenly there were five classes left without a teacher. Other teachers were scrambling to pick up the slack by adding classes they didn’t plan to teach. Other important responsibilities were deserted and left to unprepared associates.
I’m not in this co-worker’s shoes. I can’t judge him with any supernatural insight. I do know that ministry is tough. Real ministry with the young people we choose to work with can be exhausting, demanding and frustrating. I never am surprised when someone serves and then chooses to move on. My sixteen years aren’t typical, and I am aware of that. If someone serves five years, I know they’ve given much of their heart and life away.
We all- and I say this not with omniscience, but with confidence in what I’ve learned over the years- ALL have moments where we want to just type a letter and say, “I quit. I can’t do this anymore.” Quitting looks good at times. It promises a jolt of power, self-determination and the ability to demonstrate to others the depths of grievance or upset.
Maybe there is a straw that breaks the camel’s back. Maybe the person has failed and doesn’t want to face the embarrassing results. Perhaps a friend or family member says “Quit. You deserve it.” Maybe God speaks to that person and says “Quit now.” I have no idea. I know it’s a strong temptation. Almost overwhelming in some situations.
Quitting suddenly in ministry is very painful to those left behind in shock. It sends messages that are lasting and serious. “You don’t love us.” “You told us to not give up, and now you’ve given up.” “You left us alone, and took the exit out of our lives.” “Did God tell you to do this? Why?”
Proverbs 22:1 says that a good name is to be chosen over riches. The essence of that proverb has to do with valuing something intangible, but very influential and valuable. Reputation and legacy. Influence and esteem. If we sacrifice our “good name” for something like wealth, pleasure or power, it’s wrong.
It’s also wrong if we sacrifice a “good name” to inflict shock and loss. It’s wrong to destroy a “good name” on the pleasure of a sudden resignation. It’s wrong to sacrifice a “good name” for vengeance, grievance and petty retaliation.
We live in a culture that savors it’s revenge fantasies. If someone wrongs us, we think, THEY deserve to suffer. They deserve the pain and the loss our actions will cause.
When we think like this, we have devalued our reputation, our “good name” and our influence for the payoff of petty revenge.
There are many times I would counsel a person to leave ministry, leave a church or leave a career position. There may be circumstances where leaving immediately is the right thing to do. Most usually, however, we are called to leave behind a good name. Even if we have a grievance, we’re obligated to be honorable. Honorable in word and action. Honorable in loving others and being faithful to God.
I have great appreciation for people who don’t quit, even when they are strongly tempted to do so. There are honorable ways to leave a ministry or job, and there are ways that amount to nothing more than an infantile tantrum. There are ways to leave that are so hurtful, they surpass whatever unfairness or frustration the person may have felt.
I appreciate all of you who haven’t quit when it’s been hard to keep going in ministry and serving others. I’m glad my parents didn’t give up on their marriage. I’m glad my wife hasn’t given up on me. I’m glad that I’ve stayed at this ministry 16 years. (And I’ve often felt I couldn’t do anything else that could possibly make it worth another day.)
When I leave, however I leave, I want to leave a “good name” behind.