…and the 5 Things That Made Me Change My Mind
Because of some issues that were happening at the time, I was already at the lowest point of my ministry so far. Then, I saw a picture of a letter that had been sent out to multiple leaders in our church. It was mean-spirited and designed to hurt. It did. We were on vacation at the beach and I fell face-first on the bed and wept. I looked at my wife and told her that I was done. “I quit. I am done. I am finished with ministry.” A season of depression, questioning, and frustration began that day and lasted over 6 months.
However, over a year later, I am joyfully the pastor of the same church. I did not quit, and thank God that I didn’t. I can imagine, though, that some of you have experienced similar situations. From what I hear from pastor friends of mine, the temptation to quit is ubiquitous. Further, we have all met ministers who quit but still stayed at the post—dried up, devoid of Gospel passion, and ineffective.
Here are the 5 things that helped me through this season.
1. An Amazing Wife
That night, my wife could not have been a better ministry partner. Even though we were on a much-needed vacation after a very busy and trying season of ministry, she encouraged me to go spend some time alone with the Lord. Well, encouraged might be a light way to say it. “Mat, you are not you right now. Here’s your Bible. You and God go work this out.”
But, further, she didn’t chastise me or add to my pain. She didn’t say, “Suck it up,” or, “If you quit, what will we do!?” She said, “I will follow you anywhere God leads.” She knew I shouldn’t quit, but lovingly and firmly helped me see it.
As I left to go to a coffee shop to read and pray, she sent a message to our friend and mentor telling him I was in a bad spot. Later, when I got back, I told her about God’s Providence in having him call me at just the right time. Months later, I found out that God’s Providence had ordained an even more special grace in that moment—that my sweet wife had helped bring that situation about.
2. Healthy Relationships With Mentors
My wife helped prompt the conversation, but it was amazingly important that I had someone who could call me. We talked, he was kind, reminded me of my calling, and generally encouraged me. Then I talked to another mentor that is a member at my current church. He reminded me of God’s calling and the importance of staying the course.Over the months of this season, multiple men who have invested in my life made the whole process easier. Having mentors in my life became invaluable in staying in ministry. It’s God’s grace on display. Furthermore, it gave me more training on how to be a good mentor as I grow older. It gave me encouragement on how to lead young men I have discipled through their own difficult seasons.
3. An Encouraging Church Family
The last thing I want this to seem like is a hack piece against my church. I went through what Spurgeon called a “fainting fit,” to remind me that I am “but dust.” It had more to do with my mortal flesh and need for maturity than the intentional discouragement of a few folks. In fact, my church is actually what kept me in ministry.
Letters, kind words, prayers, love, meals, and more came from God’s people at the right times. Once, I even broke down in a deacons’ meeting. Those brothers gathered around me, prayed for me, and gave me immense encouragement. A threefold cord is not easily broken.
Read this excerpt from an email one church member sent to me:
“God would not have brought you to this if he did not intend to bring you through it. Never forget that you are the person God has put in place to shepherd FBC though this trial. YOU. You’re here for a reason.I know you know this, but being reminded might not hurt. Being yoked to Christ still requires being hitched up to the wagon and pulling a cumbersome load – sometimes uphill. But, the pasture’s on the other side, and you are yoked to the One most faithful to the task. We’ll get there if you persevere.”
After reading that, I felt like one of David’s mighty men! I was reminded of the great privilege of shepherding the flock of God. I was ready to buy a grave plot in Gadsden, AL and cement my feet behind that pulpit!
If you are a member of a church, commit right now to be an encouragement to your pastor. He might be ready to quit, and your encouragement could be a vehicle of the grace of God to help him persevere.
4. The Weight of the Gospel
All these things were sweet winds of the grace of God in a tough time. However, Hosea was married to Gomer and remained faithful. Samuel’s mentor was not a faithful priest and God killed him and his sons. Even our Lord was abandoned and betrayed by the disciples before His most faithful hour. Were all the aforementioned things to fade (God forbid!), would Christ then be unfaithful? Of course not!
Objectively, if men are still bound for Hell, if the glory of God still resounds through the universe, if the sins of man continue to wreak havoc on the world and their ability to flourish, if the blood of Jesus remains effective for the remission of sins, and if God has bid me to shepherd His people, then who am I to quit? The weight and importance of the Gospel of Christ compels us all to continue. We may be like Jonah, sulking and disobedient, but God remains in the gourd-withering business, and for that we should be thankful. Be strengthened in the reminder that God is faithful, not in spite of trials, but through the trial itself, to conform us to the image of His Son.
5. The Grace of God
How important, in it all, is the grace of God. How needed it is in our relationships with family, with friends, with congregations. How essential it is to see the Gospel accurately. How wonderful it is in sustaining even fainting ministers of the Gospel. Even now, as I write this, I am remembering sweet moments of the clear grace of God in sustaining me.
Once, I was sustained and fed by Hebrews chapter 12. How much I needed to remember that, in the grand scheme of Christian faithfulness, I wasn’t even a waterboy yet: “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” How much I needed the exhortation: “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled…”
(Hebrews 12:12-15 ESV)
My knees were weak and my hands were drooping. God strengthened them. I wanted to fight! I felt like I deserved to fight! God called to strive for peace with everyone. I wanted to find reprieve in sin. God reminded me that to see Him—true reprieve—I must pursue holiness. I felt bitterness creeping into my heart. God reminded me to ruthlessly remove that root from my life lest I become defiled.
At the same time, the Spirit was working to keep me and sustain me in the calling of God. Grace, grace, God’s grace. Grace that is greater than all of our sin.
Perhaps your trial is great. Far greater than what I have experienced. The Gospel you preach and the God you serve can be no greater. He is faithful. He is able. Don’t quit. Fan the flames of your calling. Encourage your pastor. Be faithful in the midst of difficulty. Heed the words of Spurgeon, who knew depression and difficulty well:
“Come fair or come foul, the pulpit is our watch-tower, and the ministry our warfare; be it ours, when we cannot see the face of our God, to trust under THE SHADOW OF HIS WINGS.”