Finding the Strength to Stay

“I want to become a truck driver.” 

This admission caught me by surprise. It wasn’t a kindergartner who said it but a pastor in a small group I was a part of. As he unpacked the challenges in ministry he had faced over the past two years, becoming a truck driver felt like a reasonable “out” for him.

In today’s current ministry climate, the stress can feel as if it is ushering us out the church door. You may be familiar with the feeling—a hidden place where walking away feels not just like an option but the preferred option. Pastors may want to become truck drivers, baristas at Starbucks, greeters at Walmart, or whatever position they can land to remove the pressure of church leadership.

The numbers prove my pastor friend isn’t alone in contemplating leaving the ministry. In March 2022, Barna asked pastors, “Have you given real, serious consideration to quitting being in full-time ministry within the last year?” Forty-two percent said yes, an uptick of 13 percentage points from 14 months earlier when Barna asked the same question in January 2021. 

A young leader named David may also have wanted to opt out of his leadership assignment. In 1 Samuel 30, David was having pretty good success, then things went incredibly wrong. Returning home with his men after a battle, David discovered their community had been attacked and burned, and their families were gone. The men responded by weeping, then they started talking about stoning David, a result of being “bitter in spirit” over what had happened to their families.

Where did David look at that moment? At himself. “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (v. 6). During a crisis, the seminal truth is that you must lead yourself before you can lead anyone else. 

Bill George, a Harvard Business School professor and former CEO of Medtronic, writes and speaks on authentic leadership. He says leaders should devote themselves “to personal development that cultivates their inner compass. This requires reframing their leadership from being heroes to being servants of the people they lead.” 

When facing a leadership crisis, we have the choice to think about our ministry in these terms. Then we have to commit to opt in.

Opting In

What does opting in look like?

It means making a commitment to lead yourself first, and lead yourself well. It is doing the hard work of looking within and identifying places of potential friction or deficiency. It is replenishing so you have the space and fuel to give to others. It is deepening the well out of which you love and serve those God has entrusted to you.

Opting in means committing to five key areas.

  1. Purpose. How have I sought clarity and invested in deepening my understanding of my life and leadership calling in a way that provides anchor points for the turmoil and turbulence that is an inevitable part of ministry?
  2. Learning. What am I doing to grow in who I am as a person, as a Christ follower and as a leader? 
  3. Relationship. Who provides support, encouragement, accountability and authenticity to my heart, soul and leadership? How often do we connect, and at what level of transparency do I engage?
  4. Refueling. What do personal times of refreshing and seeking the presence of God look like for me? How often do I need to practice them to deepen the reservoir out of which I love and serve others?
  5. Perspective. How are my challenges helping me recognize the ways God is at work in my life and leadership? How do I understand them from a lifetime perspective and not just a current assignment or short-term endeavor?

In times like these, we may worry and wonder and wander. The idea of the grass being greener somewhere else may introduce thoughts of getting out and moving on. But as you revisit the certainty of God’s call on your life and leadership, choose to opt in. Recognize that those you lead and serve need to be loved, encouraged and challenged to make their own difference in the world. And they can change the world as you decide afresh not to be a truck driver but the courageous person God has called you to be.

Tom De Vries is the president and CEO of the Global Leadership Network.