Thursday, November 29, 2007
Why you should quit the ministry.
Maybe this title is a little harsh. I guess I should say this post is about why I quit the ministry and why I’m glad I did. You can do whatever you want and should only act on a sense of faith. This is the only thing that matters. What I think is nothing compared to walking by faith. Do any of these statements sound familiar: “_______ is a hard city/town/state/region/country/people group to bring the gospel to.” “The soil is hard here.” “People aren’t responsive to the gospel on my campus." Ministry is hard work. Some of this has to do with the nature of working with people. It’s not like you’re making widgets for a buck and selling them for ten and demand out weighs supply. Folks have choices, a past, needs and quirks. These dynamics are impossible to control. You can only deal with what you face. But on top of that you have spiritual factors. Receptivity, resistance, and unseen opposition, to name a few. These are equally impossible to exert influence over. When I first started my work with university students, I had an encounter I will never forget. I was sitting in a prayer group when a man pulls out his bible and began reading from Zechariah. He got to the phrase in chapter 8 that said, “…let us go with you, because we’ve heard that God is with you.” At that point I broke down, sobbing, for who knows how long. It felt like an hour, could have been five minutes. I have no idea. Why did I have that kind of out of the blue reaction to an obscure Old Testament reference? Upon reflection, the only thing that made sense was that this is what I wanted my life to be about. This is what I thought my contribution in ministry would be. It’s what I believed would be the vehicle of the good news. Not a tract or an illustration on a napkin, but instead seeing it carried along by people among whom God was real and obvious. Nowhere in my spiritual development did anyone ever share this idea with me. Instead, the Gospel was dependent on me to share a Summary of the Story in five minutes or less. Soon after that I committed myself to praying for awakening. I invited other colleagues to join with me to ask God to do the kind of thing spoken of in Zechariah 8. We prayed together for at least 10 years. Nothing even came close to what we envisioned. Eventually I grew discouraged, ready to give up. I started entertaining other vocational options. I started feeling like a fool. Had I given my best years and effort to a pipe dream? It took about four years, but during that time I came to believe that I hadn’t wasted my life. I was free to change vocations, but I was not at liberty to discard the vision that was handed to me. I may reach my grave and never see that kind of spiritual movement, but that fulfillment was never to be my goal. Mine was to live by faith, always moving toward that dream. So I left the vocational ministry, opened a business, and got something of my soul back in the process. I was like The Farmer who was committed to his land, and every day of the year hitched his plow to the ox and tried plowing his drought hardened field. Faithful to the task, yet it was cripplingly discouraging. He always wanted to be a farmer, but the work was too much to bear. Without rain, his work was hopeless. He talked to other farmers who were doing the same thing, daily scraping the crusty surface of dirt, with a dust cloud being the only evidence of labor. They told him to stay the course, that a good farmer never quits. “This is hard work, son, what did you expect?” So he got an idea. The Farmer believed rain would one day return, so instead of tearing up his back and his plow on a hard field, he spent his time on other tasks. He started enlisting a handful of city kids, a few young non-farmers, people who had no preconceived notion of how to farm. He shared his vision of the eventual rainstorm that would come and soften the soil and make it capable of plowing again, and that when this happened, he was going to need some help. He showed these few how to build a plow and make it sharp so once the rain came, they would be ready to go. I will always be The Farmer, and just because I’m not in the same university field I once was is no indication that I have given up. I’m just in a better position to wait for rain now.