Brad Powell: “God’s best can be experienced in and through life’s worst.”
Q: It seems that a lot of people who once chose to give their lives to vocational ministry are now choosing to leave it. To be honest, I’m battling the idea myself. What do you see as the problem? How have you overcome it and remained motivated and passionate for so long?
There’s no one clear or simple answer to your first question. Every person and circumstance is different. But from my experience, there’s one consistent element: We enter ministry with distorted expectations.
I know I did. Jesus had so changed my life that I couldn’t think of anything grander than helping other people experience the same thing. So I devoted my life to ministry. But my expectations were idealized.
* When I talked to people who were as lost and skeptical as I once was, the scales would immediately fall from their eyes and they’d believe.
* When I was called to pastor a church, people would immediately want to follow me and embrace my ideas.
* Because I was willing to serve the Lord with my life, he would somehow grant me calm seas and smooth sailing. (Obviously, I hadn’t read the Bible with my eyes open. This was never the case for anyone who genuinely gave their lives to following and serving God.)
Much to my dismay, I have discovered life in ministry is filled with the same kinds of realities as life in general. Until I learned to expect this as my reality, it often led to long seasons of disenchantment—of wanting out. And I came very close.
After having been a senior pastor for more than four years, I actually took the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) as I pondered the idea of leaving ministry. I was discouraged. Ministry was nothing like I had expected.
The same will ultimately happen to anyone who harbors naively optimistic expectations for ministry.
The way I ultimately overcame my serious bout with the idea of quitting was by getting into God’s Word more—not less, as I might have been inclined to do. In that process, God gave me a leader to pattern my life after. Nehemiah became a game changer for me.
What I Learned From Nehemiah
Nehemiah taught me that leadership, especially spiritual leadership, is never easy. But it’s not a reason to quit, because—and here’s the important truth for all who want to remain motivated, passionate and faithful in ministry—God’s best can be best experienced in and through life’s worst. Nehemiah simply lived Romans 8:28, generations before it was written. When we know, understand and live this truth, it becomes possible to remain faithful and effective for the long haul.
It certainly turned me around. Before learning this truth, I was ready to walk away from ministry. Since learning it, ministry—with all its good, bad and ugly realities—has become one of the great joys of my life.
My close call with quitting took place before I came to my present ministry 23 years ago. I can’t imagine having missed all God has privileged me to be part of. But I would have never experienced them if it weren’t for great examples like Nehemiah. He led in and through very difficult circumstances, never doubting God was at work, faithful to his promises and accomplishing his will. He never quit.
My hope is that the example of Nehemiah can do for you what it did for me: inspire you to remain faithful to ministry.
Nehemiah experienced desperation (Neh. 2:2); opposition (2:10); weariness (2:11-12); loneliness (2:12, 16); and disappointment (2:13-15, 17). Yet he experienced God’s best. Here’s how he expressed it: “I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me” (2:18).
This goes to your second question: I overcome the ongoing desperation, opposition, weariness, loneliness and disappointment of ministry and remain motivated and passionate in the same way Nehemiah did: I seek to remember that God’s best can be experienced in and through life’s worst.
In fact, it gets better than that.
In the past, I had to accept and embrace this truth based entirely on faith in what God did for Nehemiah and other leaders. Not anymore. I have since experienced it for myself. But I almost missed it. Here’s what saved me: I chose to believe God would do the same for me as he did for Nehemiah. I never would have discovered that if I had quit. Nor will you.
Provision and Prosperity
When we trust God for his best in the midst of life’s worst, we will experience God’s gracious hand upon us. Along with Nehemiah and every other person who has remained faithful to God during the tough times, we experience God’s provision (Phil. 4:19):
In desperation, he provides hope (Matt. 17:20).
In opposition, he provides protection (Ps. 18:2).
In weariness, he provides strength (Is. 40:29).
In loneliness, he provides companionship (Matt. 28:20).
In disappointment, he provides encouragement (Ps. 10:17).
We also experience God’s prosperity (Jer. 29:11). He grants us eternal life (Rom. 6:23) and abundant life (John 10:10).
It’s true that many are leaving ministry. No doubt some of those were never called. But many were. They’re now missing God’s best. I don’t write this in judgment, but sadness. I came very close to making the same tragic mistake. Because I didn’t, I’ve experienced God and his grace in ways that far exceed any expectation I had. I don’t want you to miss God’s best. If God never called you, please get out of vocational ministry. But if God did call you, please don’t quit.
And in case you’re wondering, I did very well on the LSAT. I could have pursued law. But if I had, I would have missed God’s best. I’m so glad I didn’t. I hope you don’t either.