When I knew it was time to walk away from ministry
Carrie Stephens wrote here about how she decided to stay in ministry. Here’s my story of walking away.Several months ago, a reader asked me how to tell when it was time to step away from serving. She wasn’t sure if God was calling her out or if the enemy was tempting her to leave. My writer-friend
When I first received this question, I pondered, prayed through, and read nine books on the topic—here’s what I came up with:
I don’t know.
I almost stopped there, but God whispered, “You have a story. Tell that one.”
So this is the story about walking away from a ministry close to my heart and the false beliefs I uncovered along the way.
After volunteering for about four years in our church’s children’s program, I was asked to come on staff part-time as our children’s pastor. I accepted because I believed that it was my next step. But there’s more to making decisions than that, and I had to battle false beliefs that I didn’t realize I had. Here’s what I uncovered in the process.
False Belief #1: The passion for the ministry can overpower the reality of the job.
I love Jesus, kids, our volunteer team, and the chance to grow a ministry. Teaching others about Jesus gets me fired up. And yet, the reality of the job was more administrative than I had hoped. And yeah, I know what you’re thinking, “Jill, how could you NOT know that?” But that’s what happens: we get blinded by our passions and the good we can do, and we cannot (or refuse to) see the realities of the job at hand.
When we blindly follow our excitement the new venture brings, we:
- Gloss past our weaknesses and the discrepancies between our priorities and job requirements.
- Have no idea what our motivation is for taking the job—to glorify God or to gain power and status or to do what we’re “supposed” to do?
- Deny our gifts and talents to make them fit the requirements of the job. When Jesus spoke of us denying ourselves, He meant our fleshly nature and not the gifts, talents, and passions He put inside of us. There may be gifts you have that aren’t being utilized and God wants the world to see through you.
But my Achiever-ness pushed back against all the warning signs, and this lack of understanding led me to another false belief.
False Belief #2: When you’re struggling, just tell yourself to get it together.
My game plan was endurance, but when that didn’t work, I started adjusting the strategy for the better—instead of powering through, I stopped and asked for counsel. I decided to listen to God-centered friends, not my pride. Instead of enduring, I listened to what my emotions were telling me. Emotions shouldn’t dictate what we do, but they’re certainly indicators of the state of our soul.
God was telling me to step away, but Achievers don’t quit. If I was tougher, stronger, or a better leader, I could do this. I just needed to buckle down and get it together… but that wasn’t the case.
False Belief #3: It’s easy to tell the difference between a temptation to leave and a call to leave.
About 18 months in, I was crying randomly, and I was physically and emotionally exhausted. All I wanted was to wear a dress to church, sit next to Ryan during worship while our girls enjoyed the kids program, and go to brunch afterwards… oh brunch, how I love you so.
I wondered, is this a trial to prune out selfishness or is this a call to walk away and enjoy a slower pace? A trial to endure and a temptation to walk away feel about the same, don’t they?
Friends, I wish I could give you a blueprint or “if this, then that” statements to fit your situation, but I can’t. All I can do is tell you what I did. I read the Bible, prayed, and sought counsel, and what I heard was this: an invitation to rest, the sound of amazing grace, and resounding choruses of “I am with you.”
False Belief #4: If you really loved this ministry and the people, you’d loyally serve forever…or else it’ll fall apart.
Guilt said that, if I loved Jesus and kids, I would serve in perpetuity. If I didn’t, that would make me a liar—our enemy speaks in accusations drenched in shame.
I also wondered, “Who will hold all of this together if I walk away?” The enemy wanted me to believe that I, not God, hold all things together. And when he can’t get us to believe that we’re all-powerful? He loves to make us swim in guilt.
False Belief #5: My capability must mean it’s God’s calling.
I had taken my capacity, my ego, my goal-achieving mindset, and my desire to meet and beat expectations, and I declared it God’s calling.
So how do we know the difference: our ego or God’s invitation?
Well, I can tell you it’s not formulaic. It’s a combination of prayer, reading God’s word, feeling Him tug on your heart, and then asking God-centered people in your life for their perspective. It’s a matter of feeling bullied or led, intimidated or encouraged, fearful or peace-filled.
Eventually, I walked away, and it was really hard. I felt like a failure.
But, for all the craziness and hurt, I wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything.
My experience led me to write to you, my sweet Achiever friend. And it led me to love Jesus more and more, to know Him as my comforter, to seek His will, and to know that, when I walk away, He’s still walking alongside me.
So if you’re like the reader who asked when to quit and when to stay, please know that every part of your story will lead you to Jesus.