You’ve probably thought about quitting recently.
The data David Kinnaman, President of Barna Group shares weekly on our joint podcast, Church Pulse Weekly, shows that pastors are more discouraged than ever, are worried about much lower effectiveness in their ministry post-COVID, and that 20% of churches might not even survive.
No wonder you’ve thought about quitting.
Speaking personally, I find that even scrolling through my social media and news feed most days discourages me.
I’m not telling you can’t quit. Of course you can. You can do whatever you’d like.
But I would like to try to persuade you why, for most leaders, this is probably the wrong time to leave. To at least reconsider.
And I’d love to give you a few strategies to help you move through these days with more composure, grace and, well, sanity.
I get it. It’s hard. Really hard.
Here’s why it’s worth hanging in if you can.
1. Quitting On A Bad Day Is A Really Bad Idea
I’ve wanted to quit more than a few times, and almost always that’s because I’m having a bad day.
Here’s what I’ve realized: quitting on a bad day is a really bad idea.
On a bad day, your emotions hijack your brain. You can’t think straight, and you almost always end up doing things you regret.
Quitting is pretty permanent.
And if quitting on a bad day is a bad idea, 2020 has been a string of bad days, weeks, and months. The pressure is cumulative. And it’s probably wisest to resist.
Does this mean you can never quit?
Of course not. If it’s time to go, it’s time to go. I’m actually stepping down from our church staff at the end of 2020, but that was planned for years as part of a carefully developed succession plan.
If you’re going to quit, quit on a good day. After careful prayer, adequate rest, wise counsel, and a clear sense this is the best step into the future.
If you’re having a bad day (or a bad year), hang in there. You’ll probably be glad you did.
If you need some further incentive, here’s a pattern I’ve noticed in my life: you’re most tempted to quit moments before a critical breakthrough.
I can’t tell you the number of times I almost gave up, didn’t, and saw a breakthrough right around the corner.
So hang in there.
2. You’re Probably Just About To Innovate
You know the saying: necessity is the mother invention.
So, yep, things are really tough. Which also means you’re probably about to start innovating.
Most of the change that’s happened since March 2020 hasn’t been innovation, it’s been adaptation. You had no choice, so you really didn’t pivot, you adapted. We all did.
The adaptation is wearing thin. It’s not working as well as it did a few months ago.
And the return ‘back to church’ has been, for the most part, a shadow of what existed pre-COVID. Many leaders stepped back into the past when they stepped back into their buildings, and now they’re now frustrated with the lack of progress they see.
Which is driving you to despair. But sitting on the other side of despair is something much more promising: innovation.
Let your desperation drive you to innovation. That’s where all the promise is.
3. The World Has Never Needed The Church More
Saying that these have been hard times for most churches and leaders is absolutely true.
Most churches are seeing significant declines in in-person and even online attendance. I get it. That’s really discouraging.
But the mission of the church has never been more important.
In a divided, tribalized, angry, isolated and fragile culture, the mission of the church has never been more important.
While some church leaders are mimicking the attitude of the culture, supporting partisan candidates and fueling anger online, the future belongs to pastors who don’t.
What the culture needs is an alternative to itself, and the church is just that.
This is a great time to remind yourself that when you’re surrounded by division, the church brings unity.
When you see isolation, the church fuels community.
It’s a good time to affirm once again the answer to hate isn’t more hate, it’s the radically countercultural practice of enemy-love Jesus embodied.
The world does need the church to mimic it right now, it needs the church to provide an alternative.
Perhaps you were called into leadership for such a time as this.
4. The Challenge Of 2020 Places You Squarely In The Tradition Of Biblical Leadership
I don’t know about you, but the biblical stories I’ve read all my life are leaping off the page in fresh ways this year.
As much as you might hate 2020, it places you squarely in the tradition of most Biblical leadership. Leaders in scripture almost always led through crisis.
If you think being Moses was easy, hang out in Exodus or Deuteronomy for a little longer. It was brutal.
People criticize the scripture regularly for being too violent (that often confuses descriptive passages with prescriptive passages). Conflict, war, oppression, invasions, and corrupt political systems characterize biblical times.
But personally, I’m glad the scriptures don’t describe some idyllic life where everyone walks in the woods in perfect harmony with each other, because that’s not the world we live in. Come on, that’s not even your family. You can’t go for a walk without someone arguing about something.
No, the dysfunction we see in biblical characters reflects the dysfunction we see in ourselves.
And strangely, through it all, we see God’s hand still at work. That Christ’s redeeming work is still progressing.
The church in Corinth was a mess. And God used it.
None of this justifies the dysfunction, but it lets us know that God works in it and in spite of it.
Which means there’s hope for you and me.
Which means when you lead through the mess that is today, you are squarely in the tradition of Biblical leadership, tracing out hope where nobody can find any.
Three Ways To Stay Encouraged In Leadership
So, that’s a little motivation as why you shouldn’t quit.
But how do you find the fuel and motivation to stay in there?
Here are three things that have helped me and I hope will help you.
1. Don’t Look To Time Off To Heal You—Pay Attention To Your Time On
I know a lot of leaders who are holding out for some time off. And time off is wonderful.
But it’s not going to get you through the crisis. You just can’t take enough vacation or days off to get you through a prolonged crisis.
When the way you’re living and leading is broken, all the time in the world off won’t fix it.
The problem with most leaders is not how we spend our time off. It’s how we spend our time on.
So, focus on creating a sustainable rhythm for every day. The mantra I’ve lived by for the last decade plus is, live in a way today that will help you thrive tomorrow. It helps me figure out everything from how much sleep I need, how many meetings to take, how many decisions I can reasonably make, and how to replenish myself daily so I can lead at home and at work.
Your time off can’t save you if the problem is how you spend your time on.
This might take constant adjustment on your part, but it’s worth it.
2. Create An Encouragement File
For years I’ve kept a file I simply call “encouragement”.
It’s a simple Gmail folder.
The rule is simple. When someone sends me something that encourages me (an email, a blog comment, a DM, a card, a note), I put it in that file. Often it’s a thank you for something I said or did, a short message of encouragement, and sometimes it’s a life-changing story (love those!).
Here’s why I keep it (hang on, my reasoning is complicated): I get discouraged.
The news bothers me. My social media feed can be depressing. Results can be disappointing. And critics can get under my skin.
Sometimes it doesn’t even take a comment from anyone. I can discourage myself in no time flat.
You probably get a lot of encouragement, but you just forget. Plus it takes about 1000 positive comments to compensate for the one devastating critique someone emailed you.
When you get discouraged, read what you’ve saved in your encouragement file.
God is using you more than you think, and people appreciate you more than you realize.
3. Don’t Do This Alone: It Can Kill You
Leadership was already lonely enough before the crisis hit. Now it’s even lonelier.
If you want to stay motivated and strong in leadership, you can’t do it alone.
Think loneliness isn’t a big deal?
Think again. Apparently it can kill you.
Loneliness can be more deadly to your health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
If you’re feeling lonely, reach out to a friend. I’ve reached out to a handful of friends in the pandemic. One friend and I text every day, just to stay in touch and encourage each other.
And when you can grab lunch and meet face to face, do it.
Solitude is a gift from God. Isolation is a tool of the enemy.
Leaders, you’re only as lonely as you choose to be.