I get asked this a lot. Unfortunately, there is no cut and dry way to know. Here is a portion of an answer I sent to a pastor who has spent several years struggling through a very hard church. It sounds like he is at the end and trying to keep his family from crumbling. Additionally, his soul is beyond spent. With that small bit of context, here was my advice to him:
Good to hear from you. I regret your update is of this nature with the struggles growing. Only a pastor who knows what it is like to pastor a hard, struggling church knows the depth of pain and hurt you feel. I know that feeling and am saddened this suffering is what you are having to walk through. I am certain of this: God has good purposes in it for you that will make you more like Jesus, although almost impossible to see now. It was hard for me to see them when there were 3 different movements to get me fired at my church in the first 5 years. I can say I see them a bit more now, by God’s grace at the 10 year mark. But, the scars still remain as they will with you regardless what you do from here.
I certainly cannot tell you what you should do. I don’t know what that is. But here are a few thoughts as you consider the path from here:
- Some of the best advice I ever got was this, “There is always another ministry. You only get one wife.” Since you mentioned the constant struggle this has been on your wife and children, this may be the time to walk away for their sake and regroup. It is a noble thing to make a sacrificial decision for your family and God honors that.
- As hard as it is and the temptation to feel like a failure is great, there is no shame in walking away for a time. Get a job. Find a good local church to be care for and fed by the word. Enjoy your family without the rigors of pastoral ministry for a time. It is hard to walk away from a flock and even your calling. But there comes a time where you and your family are in such bad shape, you are not good for that church in that condition. The care from a pastor and another church with some time can even help you better assess what God is calling you to at this point in your life.
- If you stay and stick it out, the Lord will give you grace to press on, dear brother. Remember that. But, if you stay, it sounds like you may need to put up some strict boundaries for the sake of your family that have possibly been neglected. Only you know if this is true, but I am just throwing things out there for you to think about.
- If you decide to leave, I would strongly encourage you not to go pastor another church right away. If you have been wounded to this despairing point, you need to get some healing to your own soul first and rebuild your family trust before you will be capable to care for another flock. I have watched too many guys in your position underestimate the level of hurt that has been experienced, jump back in too quickly to pastoral ministry, and bad things happen to them and their new church.
Well, there are some random thoughts. I hope in some way they are helpful and the Lord gives you grace and discernment on what his will is for you, your family, and ministry.
Dear brothers, the struggles of ministry are great and they take its toll on you, your soul, and your family. Suffering and difficulty is not a reason to walk away. But a weary, hurting soul that is totally spent in all areas of his life may need to walk away for a time, regroup, get some help and counseling, and be cared for by others. This pastor reached out to me and a few others and was humble and wise to do so. If this describes you, make sure you reach out to someone near you for help. Ask for help before you destroy everything that is dear to you in your life.