Sometimes ministry is so hard, I contemplate quitting.
That’s the struggle I kept to myself for a long time.
I’ve worked full time as a Director of Christian Education for nearly a decade, and am married to a pastor. I’ve published a book and numerous articles, spoken all over the continent about youth ministry, and partnered on exciting projects in my district and nationally.
Yet the nagging struggle of wanting to walk away from it all is real.
Yeah, I’m conscious of the many blessings I’ve experienced through a life in ministry. God’s goodness is evident in my career.
But frankly, when you’re wading through the grinding, cumbersome seasons of ministry, the platitudes mean little. As those who work with others, we know the answers we’re supposed to have. We know the struggle of being open, but not too vulnerable with our youth and our congregation. We understand the unique loneliness of our position as teachers, pastors, coaches, or youth leaders: we’re always there for everyone else, but often personally neglected.
Feeling the weight of this burden, I recently confessed my frustrations to my senior pastor. “I often wonder if it’s worth it,” I found myself telling him. “So many days, I want to quit.”
In response, he smiled. “Me too,” he said.
C.S. Lewis said it best when he wrote, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’”
This article is for you, that person struggling right now and feeling alone. The person afraid to be vulnerable and admit what you’re really feeling. If it’s not you who’s stuck in the grind, maybe it’s your spouse, your child, your student, or your coworker, and they need to hear this message loud and clear:
You are not alone. God is with you, every grueling step of this journey.
I’m admittedly no expert when it comes to dealing with this heavy topic, but I can share some of the wisdom I’ve garnered in dealing with the grind of ministry.
Give yourself permission to admit that you’re struggling. The beauty of being a Christian is that you’re not alone in your brokenness and imperfection—we’re all crippled by our sin. You’ve screwed up? You’re burned out? You hate coming to work? You doubt the decisions you’ve made? Join the club, friend.
As a community of Christ-followers, we need more transparency and fewer fake smiles. When we’re hurting, we benefit from those who pray with us in our pain, who put an arm around us and tell us we’ll make it through, who meet our honesty with openness.
Evaluate Your Life & Refocus
Is this simply a vexing season, or a lifestyle you’ve developed? I ask myself that question when I’m burned out. I’ve had to face myself in the mirror, recognizing my personality and habits, and reckon with how I’ve constructed my routine. Be honest—write it all out on paper if you need to see it starkly in black and white.
Be conscious of the big picture when you’re mired in frustrations. Life is full of ups and downs, but we can’t just give up when we hit those valleys. Instead, refocus your perspective.
Break up the grind of your routine, and take it day by day. Instead of focusing on the negatives, find positive nuggets to appreciate every day. I’ve found that spending a few minutes to enjoy a cup of coffee in solitude is a sliver of joy throughout my day. Also, shutting my office door and blasting rock music every once in a while is a great stress relief. Additionally, scheduling something fun to look forward to when everything else looks gloomy gives me a glimmer of hope on the horizon.
Invest in Safe Outlets
I’ve been burned plenty of times by relationships that weren’t supportive, and friends who didn’t care for me when I was struggling. Yet hard times reveal the true character of people: you discover who’s going to be there when the dust settles.
Prayerfully consider who you can have real conversation with about your challenges. Is it your pastor? A college classmate? A colleague who works in the same field? As a general rule of thumb, don’t blab to congregational members, coworkers, your students or children. Choose wisely what you share, staying away from personal topics about relationships or other private matters. Refrain from pouring out your trials in an intimate setting with the opposite gender.
The most supportive people in my life have been my family, friends I’ve had for over a decade, and the like-minded pals I’ve made in my professional field. On a monthly basis, the local youth and family leaders in my district gather together to have “real talk.”
I’ve developed close friendships with several of my church work colleagues, and have been immensely blessed by their wise advice and listening ear in those seasons where I’m up to my elbows in frustration. More than once, I’ve called one of these people out of the blue, confessed how I just want to walk away from it all, and had the Holy Spirit speak through them to my wounded heart.
Lay Your Burdens Down
Too often, Scripture isn’t the first place I turn when I’m frazzled. Yet the solace I find in God’s Word is incalculable. Isaiah 55:11 reminds that God’s will is accomplished through His Word: “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
Make a conscious decision to lay your burdens down at the foot of the cross. Share every whisper of angst with God. Rest in the peace of Christ, even while it may feel like a storm is raging in your life.
Whether it’s dedicated prayer time in your car, writing a letter to God, or sitting quietly in a darkened sanctuary, find moments to be honest with the One who knows you best….and loves you the most.
In even the most difficult moments, take comfort in the message of hope found in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Fix your eyes not on what is seen—not the grind, or the frustrations, the loneliness or the pressure—but on what is unseen.
God is with you even now, my friend.