Jacob’s writing has been really good. I get energized when I see people wrestle with their calling, wrestle with their circumstances, and speak wisdom out of their disillusionment. It is a given to get disillusioned in church work. Those who say otherwise are living an unexamined life or lying. Both of which are destroyers of authentic ministry.
Let’s dig in. Jacob asks: “Should I even be here?” My answer:
One of the greatest challenges I have faced in life is deciphering the riddle of the will of God. In the church tradition I grew up in, discovering God’s will for your life was the most important thing a young person could do. And although I do believe that God can call specific people to specific tasks, I question that God calls all people to specific vocations.
Removing something sinful, for most of us:
- God does not care about what you do. God cares about why and how you do what you do.
- God does not care where you live. God cares about how you live.
- If you are married, God calls you to be a faithful, loving spouse and demonstrate His love for His people with how you love each other.
- If you are a parent, God calls you to model Him in the way you rear your children.
- God asks us to work like we are working for Him, regardless of our task.
I reject the notion that there is a job that I can have that equals the will of God for my life. Maybe that’s just true for me. You decide if that resonates with you.
When I think of the blessings that God has lavished upon me, the grace that has been my constant companion, I can’t find the words to express my gratitude. When I take long walks in the evening, sometimes I pray for my community, sometimes I listen to podcasts, sometimes I cry out to God in worship and He meets with me.
I cherish that time.
I have a wife who is incredibly gifted and loving and a daughter that is my joy. I remember the moment when I held Ashley for the first time and was bursting with pride and love. God uses this word picture to express His love for us. That’s amazing!
But there is another place I inhabit. A place of abiding loneliness and disconnection. A place of failure and loss and missed opportunity. A place of doubt and disillusionment.
Sometimes I am faithful in spiritual disciplines, sometimes I just watch TV.
I have been used by God to birth His life in others. I have also ignored God and fallen into sinful patterns.
I have been in Potiphar’s house managed well and fallen when the temptation came.
I have been in Potiphar’s house overcome the temptation and ended up in prison.
This is the here that God calls all of us to fully embrace. A place of gratitude and worship, but also authenticity in failure. A place of optimism (because we know the end of the story) even though our own choices have failed us.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed.
We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.
So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
(2 Corinthians 4:7-12 NIV)
You cannot find a place that escapes this tension. This is the tension of the Christian life. If you feel this tension and struggle than you’re doing it right.
Should I be at this church? In this ministry position?
Let’s get practical. I think the question may be more helpful if we turn it around.
How do you know you are in the wrong place?
1. You do not respect your leadership.
All of us have challenges, strong disagreements, and even arguments with our leaders. That is part of being in the same boat. When there is a core of trust and respect that undergirds the relationship, intense conversations and disagreements are healthy. Sometimes they go well. Sometimes they don’t. That’s not really a problem.
News flash: sometimes I intentionally sin. Sometimes your leaders do as well. But if any of us gets to a point where we are too important to receive correction, we are headed down a dangerous path away from God.
That’s the problem. Don’t let anyone lead you down a dangerous path away from God.
I remember being in a meeting with my pastor when he made an off hand critical remark about a situation. Moments after the meeting I received a phone call from him. He mentioned what he said, confessed that he was wrong to say it, and asked for forgiveness. He was demonstrating a tender heart towards others and a responsiveness to the correction of the Holy Spirit. That’s something I can get behind.
- Do you have an open door to question your leadership (in a respectful way, at the right time)?
- In confrontation, is there openness or defensiveness?
- Does the conversation always shift to your attitude to avoid their accountability?
- Are you afraid to speak out? Afraid of a backlash or angry scolding?
Everyone has off days, mood swings, and times of grumpiness. Our leaders are people, after all. Respect is cultivated not because we never mess up, but because of how we respond when we mess up. All of us would do well to remember that.
2. You do not trust your leadership.
I tend to throw out ideas and speculate. I change my mind a lot (Well, kind of. It’s hard to say I changed my mind when I never decided to begin with). When my daughter was younger, she often accused me of lying. I learned to be more literal with her, and not always include her in my verbal processing, and she learned that changing your mind is not lying (although all parents should follow through on promises). In our case, it is a personality difference.
When I took my current technical director position, the condition of the tech team was misrepresented. I soon discovered that the team was about 1/5 the size that the leadership thought it was. I realized the truth. The leadership had not lied to me; they did not purposefully give me incorrect information. They actually didn’t know. They gave me the best information they had. The discrepancy between their impression and reality revealed a lack of engagement with the tech area. Thanks to this information, my understanding of the job I was hired to do changed from improving a team to developing a team. When I brought the truth to the leadership, they got on board with support and greater engagement. They responded with openness, not defensiveness.
In the examples above, the discrepancies stemmed from misperception, not intentional deceit.
- Is your leadership above the law?
- Do they dangle carrots but break promises?
- Do they play favorites or use their good graces to foster dependancy?
- Is there a pattern of carefully chosen words and shades of meaning in conversation? Politician speak?
- Is there a pattern of sin with an unrepentant heart?
If these bullet points reveal consistent behavior (a lifestyle), your leader is not trustworthy.
We don’t have to agree on everything, but we should believe, with every fiber of our being, that we are discussing the real issue with the real person. Trust is a firm conviction that there is nothing concealed or hidden. Trust develops from proving over time that what you see is what you get.
3. The environment is toxic.
Not every church or ministry is healthy. Some churches are spiritually toxic. A church that is started by a dysfunctional person who is using the ministry to meet his needs of security, significance and acceptance will become a place of spiritual abuse if those areas aren’t addressed.
Woe to the person who gets in the way of an insecure person with power!
In his insightful book, “Churches That Abuse” Ronald Enroth offers hope for those hurt by legalism, authoritarian leadership, and spiritual intimidation. I have been there.
Taking up your cross and serving is a Biblical thing, but Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Persecution comes from the world as we follow Christ, not from Godly leadership!
I need to be challenged and confronted when I’m wrong. Good leadership does that. I’m incredibly grateful for people in my life who have risked relationship to confront me. No environment is perfect, especially if you have a strong entrepreneurial makeup. There is a big difference between being held up to a high standard and being held down.
Please read the quotes from the book title link and see if they describe your situation. If so, you are in the wrong place.
4. Your season has ended.
There may be no glaring problem, it could just be your time to move on. How do you figure that out? Well, I think you probably know. It’s why you’re asking the question.
- Perhaps you’ve outgrown your position. You may be ready for more responsibility.
- Perhaps you’ve reached a place where God’s direction for your life is different than the direction He is leading the church.
- Perhaps you have a new sense of calling and purpose rising in your life that will take you somewhere else.
If you are asking the question, seek Godly counsel. Share your thinking process, feelings and options.
Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.
One quick caveat. Use wisdom. Don’t seek this counsel from your supervisor or pastor if you work in a church. Expecting someone to be completely objective in that scenario is unreasonable. They’ll try, but they’ll also know that you are considering leaving. That conversation should happen after you decide on a new direction, not during the process.
I’m not talking about making a decision out of anger or hurt feelings. I’m talking about a growing, gnawing sense that God is moving you on. Get advice and go for it. When you make a decision to move on, good leadership will help you launch into your destiny. It’s going to be tough, but it is part of the journey.
If you are a Christian, you are a full time minister. It’s the hardest job in the world. You’ll never find a perfect place. You have to help create that. That’s why you are where you are. That’s what it means to be on a Kingdom assignment. Even in the right place, we must be patient and faithful.
I encourage you to embrace the tension of ministry; the tension between your reality and your vision, your process and your promise.
Be a good traveling companion. Be full of grace. God puts up with your starts and stops, put up with others.
Life is constantly changing. We are constantly changing. Remember, God cares more about the journey than the destination. Journey with a group and leader that you trust and respect. Journey well.