Under the stress of the church situation -- every church has its situation -- the pastor felt he had taken all he could stand. So, he sat down and wrote a letter to every member of his congregation. He didn't exactly resign, but came close to it. "Perhaps my work here is finished," he confessed.
He printed out the letter and, against her better judgement, his wife helped him stuff the envelopes and apply the stamps. He dropped them off at the post office and drove home.
Now, we old-timers could have told him not to act rashly, that these things often look different after a good night's sleep, and that at the very least he should have let that letter "set" overnight and read it more dispassionately the next morning. But, he had done it and that was that.
Or so he thought.
The next day, every single one of those letters was back in his mail box. The cost of postage had gone up that week and he had not put enough stamps on them.
The pastor stood there glaring at all those returned letters and recognized God had sent him a message. "It ain't funny, Lord," he called out, just before breaking into laughter.
This is probably a good place to drop in a few words of counsel we give pastors in stressful, high-pressure situations who are thinking of throwing in the towel.
1) Stay on your knees. Get alone with the Lord and don't leave until you've said everything on your mind and have remained in that position long enough to hear everything the Lord has to say.
Tell him something like this: "Lord, you brought me here. You knew about this church. You knew these leaders. And yet you chose me and sent me here. But it's now out of my hands, Father. If you want it fixed, you're going to have to do it because I can't."
The next Sunday my pastor friend--who had spent much of that week on his knees in prayer--stood in the pulpit and reaffirmed to the congregation that God had brought him there as pastor and he was committed to staying until He said otherwise. "You're stuck with me," he said to the joy of some and the befuddlement of some others.
I was been in that very situation just a dozen years ago. When you make that announcement to the congregation, your supporters rejoice, the nay-sayers become angry, the devil rages, and the Lord Jesus Christ who alone is the Head of the Church is blessed and honored.
2) "It's not about you, pastor," is the second bit of counsel we pass along. "I know you think they're not following you and that feels like you have failed. But keep saying to yourself, 'It's not about me. It's about the Lord Jesus Christ and Him only.'" In the words of John the Baptist: "He must increase; I must decrease."
Your career and how this will look on your resume' are irrelevant. You should have dealt with that a long time ago.
When people respond enthusiastically to your ministry, quieten your ego, pastor; it's not about you. And when they reject your ministry, when they criticize your preaching and undermine your staff and ignore your programs, it's not you they are rejecting. You will recall God telling Samuel when Israel was clamoring for a king: "They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me." (I Samuel 8:7)
We Americans tend to think everything has to be done democratically. Furthermore, as Baptists who treasure our traditions of everyone having a voice and a vote, it's easy to lose sight of the big picture: the Church belongs to Christ, not to any man. Not to the pastor, of course, but neither to the deacons nor to the biggest contributors and not even to the congregation as a whole. "The church of God which He purchased with His own blood," it's called in Acts 20:28. It's His church. He died for it. He is its Head. He calls the shots.
The only question for a church member or a minister is the same prayer Saul voiced from the dust outside Damascus long ago, "What wilt thou have me do?" (Acts 22:10)
3) It's all about obedience, pastor. And that's the most important word of all.
Jesus had something critical to say for His followers who were feeling unappreciated and considering quitting. "When a servant comes in from the field," He said, "the master does not say to him, 'Now, you poor thing. You've worked so hard. Go and get yourself something to eat and then you can take care of me.' No, the master says to the servant, 'Get cleaned up, put on some proper clothes, and prepare my evening meal. Then you can take care of yourself.' In fact, the master doesn't even thank the slave."
Jesus looked at His disciples and made the application: "That's how it will be with you. When you have done your job, say to yourself, 'I am only an unworthy servant; I have simply done my duty.'" (My paraphrase of Luke 17:7-10)
Now, it's important to point out that our Lord did not say this is how the Heavenly Father feels about us and our service, and it's not how He feels. It's how we should feel toward ourselves. To see what the Father thinks of our faithful service, check out Luke 19:17.
Basic Christian discipleship is all about obeying the Lord who assigned you to this position. Once you understand that, you can set about helping the congregation to understand it, too.
A cartoon shows the pastor addressing a committee of disgruntled church leaders who have surrounded his desk. He says, "I'm sorry the church is unhappy with me. But the Lord did not send me to make the church happy. He sent me to make it healthy and Him happy." Big distinction.
Pastor, in our system of church government, any church can fire you whenever they choose. But the question of when to take the initiative and resign and walk away from the church is not yours, but the Lord who called you into this work and who presumably assigned you to that church. You're there until He says otherwise.
As I understand the call of God, you signed on for the duration.
Dr. Joe McKeever is a Preacher, Cartoonist, and the Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Visit him at joemckeever.com/mt.