Union Ridge Church

January 25, 2023

by Reverend Dan on January 26, 2023

I’m frustrated. One of the saddest moments in the life of a pastor – but a thought that crosses every pastor’s mind at some point – is when they decide it’s time to step down. Not retire. Not move on to another church. Just quit being a pastor. 4,000-5,000 times a year (you read that correctly), someone succumbs to the pressure and walks away. And it’s never without prayer, deep thought, and immense personal suffering. Every time it happens the person feels like they’re letting God down, but the pain they’ve endured is so intense they just can’t take it anymore. It’s on my mind because yet another friend who is a pastor called a few weeks back and wanted to meet somewhere between where he and I live and talk over coffee. So, we did. The first words out of his mouth when he saw me came with tears rolling down his face. He didn’t even start with “Hello.” He said, “I’m done. I can’t do it anymore.” The ironic thing was that he didn’t even have to say it. I could see it in his body language, in his defeated countenance, and in his eyes that had cried a million tears. I only had to ask one question to open the floodgates; “Tell me what’s going on.” He launched into one of the most eloquent soliloquies of the challenges and frustrations of a pastor I’ve ever heard. While it may not be verbatim, what follows is a close rendering.

“I’m broken. I’m supposed to lead the church, but somebody complains because they think I have too much control. Then someone else complains that I don’t take enough control. If I do something, I’m told it isn’t my job. If I don’t do something, I’m told I should have. Folks love you if you agree with them, but in the blink of an eye they’ll talk behind your back and gossip if, heaven forbid, you just can’t see it the “right” (their) way. No one can meet all the expectations that are set. You don’t have one job description; you have as many separate job descriptions and expectations as you do members. Everyone believes that when they come to church, everything should please them. Can you imagine someone telling you what you should have said in a prayer? (Actually, I don’t have to imagine it. I’ve experienced it.) Every word is critiqued. Every action. Every decision. There’s never a down minute. If you see someone in the grocery store or a restaurant or the doctor’s office, they’re going to pull you aside and tell you about something that’s wrong at church. The phone rings at all times of the day and night without respect of family time or the reality that not everything is an emergency. If it was, they wouldn’t have waited two days to call. I can’t take it anymore, Dan. I can’t be everywhere all the time but I’m supposed to be. I’m done. I don’t have anything left.”

The best I could come up with at the moment was a short passage from Galatians. “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” But as soon as I said it, I realized therein lay the problem. He didn’t lose his heart for God; it was there. It was just shattered and broken into a million pieces, and he didn’t have the energy to put it back together again. His will was broken, and he was exhausted. We’re called to love the Lord our God – and our neighbors – with all our hearts and minds and soul and strength. He just didn’t have any of those left. He had been zapped of all four. And the saddest news of all was that most of his congregation were incredibly faithful, loving and caring people. But all it took to break him was a few. Which amazes me. A pastor has 4 years of undergraduate school, 3 years of graduate school, spends over 60 hours a week (or more) at the church or with church people, and is the only one at the church in touch with the full membership. Yet people who are there less than 2 hours a week and only speak with 10 other people in their circle feel they know what is best for everyone, and then they will move heaven and hell to make sure it comes out their way. It doesn’t matter how strong you are; there is a point where you just don’t have the energy to fight one more battle.

If I sound frustrated, I am. I’m frustrated because my friend is hurting. I’m frustrated because another great man of God has been beaten into a shell of what he once was. I’m frustrated because everything he has endured is an attack that runs counter to scripture. I’m frustrated that the church has lost another undershepherd. And most of all I’m frustrated because that attack is coming from the inside and that a handful of people can destroy a person while the other 95% sit quietly by and let it happen.

Tonight, when you hit your knees, please pray for your pastor. You have no idea how close he or she may be to that same breaking point. Respect them. Honor them. Trust them. They have to answer to a higher authority than the church. They have to answer to the One who built the church on His Son’s blood. And that’s an awful heavy weight.​​​​​​​