Friday, June 22, 2007

Weathering the dry seasons

In answer to a question.


Yes, there’s nothing in Scripture to indicate that an ordinand must have a sense that God is calling him to the ministry.

BTW, I don’t deny that there are cases in which God may “call” a man to the ministry. But that’s not the norm. That’s exceptional and unpredictable.

As to their statement that “without a clear call to pastor, the ‘seasons of drought’ in pastoral ministry cause many to abandon the field,” several things need be said.

1.There may be cases in which an illusory sense of divine vocation will keep a man in the ministry during the seasons of drought.

Even if that is sometimes the case, that doesn’t justify the prerequisite. For a man shouldn’t be in the ministry, or stay in the ministry, due to an illusory sense of divine vocation.

2.Some men should leave the ministry. Some men were never qualified to be ministers in the first place. And one way to find out if your cut out for ministry is to give it a try. You don’t know if you will succeed or fail at something until you try. You don’t know what your good at (or bad at) unless you try.

3.There’s no particular shame in a man leaving the ministry. Leaving the ministry is not like leaving the faith.

While it may sometimes indicate a spiritual crisis or emotional problem, we shouldn’t automatically stigmatize men who drop out of the ministry. When a man leaves the ministry, that should be a potential source of concern. But leaving the ministry is not, of itself, an act of apostasy.

Any man can suffer a midlife crisis. A man in any occupation can suffer job burnout. If a man quits his job as an air traffic controller because it’s too stressful, or the hours are lousy, his resignation doesn’t raise any eyebrows. It’s only in ministry that a certain odium attaches to a career-change.

Men who drop out of the ministry need our sympathy and support. Even if they suffer a lapse of faith, we shouldn’t go on the offensive.

They’re fallen warriors. Ministers need to be ministered to as well.

It’s only if they go on the attack, in a public assault on their former faith, that we should counterattack.

The stigma is a carryover from Catholicism. The idea that you have taken sacred, indissoluble vows to God. That you have an indelible charism to be a priest.

But Protestants do not, or at least ought not, take such an inflated view of things. A ministry is not a marriage.

4.To lean on a sense of divine vocation during the seasons of drought can make it more likely that a man will not be able to weather the crisis. For if he’s only in the ministry due to the subjective feeling that God called him to the ministry, then it’s precisely at a time of spiritual drought that he may begin to question his original feelings—for the obvious reason that he no longer feels that way.

Feelings come and go. Feelings fade.

5. To rely on a sense of divine vocation makes it more likely that you will drop out of the ministry at some point because you went into the ministry for the wrong reason.

6.The way to weather the dry season is not to reflect on a sense of divine vocation, but to cultivate and maintain the experiences which a man of God needs to sustain a certain level of contentment.

Having a life outside of ministry. Having a happy marriage. A good relationship with his kids. Maintaining his ties with old friends and extended family members. A prayer life. Innocent pleasures. In short: doing things that bring him joy.

It’s really pretty obvious. Where we stumble or fall is when we get so caught up in the rat-race that we neglect the obvious.

If you shortchange your emotional life at the register, you pay for it on the way out the door.


  1. steve, i think i'm the one who asked you the question this post deals with. if you want, you can publish the question itself on this blog, too. i don't mind. --RB

  2. Another issue to deal with when one is figuring out his vocation to the ministry is this: Should he chose the vocation that will make him the most happy or the one where he can serve and advance the Kingdom most effectively.

  3. Glen O said...

    "Another issue to deal with when one is figuring out his vocation to the ministry is this: Should he chose the vocation that will make him the most happy or the one where he can serve and advance the Kingdom most effectively."

    You're not going to be very effective in ministry if you're miserable, so one needs to strike a balance between duty and happiness.

    I'd add that people can do different things at different times of life.

    For example, when you're young and single you might engage in a more hazardous form of ministry, but when you take on familial obligations you might switch to something less risky.

  4. Good call...and the thing that makes me forget that is my impatience. It's so hard to remember that life is longer than the next month! God can use us in many different ways over the yrs.

  5. This is a cool post. It's something I can chew on while deciding what I think of people pastors and such.

    Thanks for making this a public answer, Paul. I found it a very enjoying read.

  6. Sorry, I forgot to delete "people" from my comment. I meant "pastors" in general, I don't actually have a specific pastor in mind that I have dubbed "people pastor". Just wanted to clear that up.