Welcome to Season 2 of the Your Church Matters podcast. In this episode (55), I unpacked another thought on which I have been pondering for several years. Both through personal experience and through conversations with pastors, I am aware that there are times when some pastors feel trapped by God. They feel abandoned. They feel desperate to relocate. They feel that ministry is ineffective. And they are waiting for a rescue that seems to never come. They resign themselves to the idea that God is keeping me here for a reason.
DISCLAIMERS: I do not presume to answer for anyone what the will of God is for your life. I also do not presume to completely understand the mysteries of the will of God, the sovereignty of God, or human choice/free will. My opinions here are the result of a lifetime of study, prayer, and personal experience. I share them–not because I believe them to be normative–but, because I hope that they will be helpful and encouraging.
I will also readily acknowledge that if your belief system sees every circumstance as being foreordained by God, this episode will likely not be of interest to you. I will not engage in any debate over this.
Reasons pastors feel trapped by God
- Fatigue. Lack of sleep, proper nutrition, and healthy habits can result in physical, emotional, and spiritual fatigue. There is even increasing research on the adverse affects of decision fatigue.
- Opposition and Criticism. Knowing that it happens to everyone doesn’t make it any easier to accept. Some people believe that they should be able to say anything to the pastor and he has to graciously accept it because he’s a man of God. (See Episode 10 – Responding to Rudeness)
- Unhealthy and unbalanced view of the will of God. For some, the concept of God’s will only means sacrifice, duty, and endurance and never means joy, contentment, and rest. (I addressed this idea more fully in an eBook entitled “On God’s Back Porch: Resting in and Enjoying God’s will when you don’t have specific directions.” This free eBook is only available to my email subscribers.)
- Loneliness. Over 50% of pastors say that being in the ministry makes them feel lonely at times.
- Unclear disciple-making process. This sometimes masquerades as apathetic members. Sometimes appears with pastors who fail to share ministry. (See Exodus 18:13-26)
- Unrealistic expectations. This includes expectations of self and others. Pastors may be compared to the legend of a former pastor or to someone’s consumer-driven unrealistic and unbiblical expectation pastors and churches in general.
- Unclear differentiation between ministry identity, ministry vocation, and ministry calling.
- Fatalistic view of God’s sovereignty. If God wants me to go somewhere else, He’ll move me. If He doesn’t move me, He must want me here. I’m enduring this for a reason.
Things NOT to do when you feel trapped by God (with alternatives)
- Don’t self-isolate. Enlist prayer support and wise counsel from spiritually mature and trusted friends. Spend more time with your family. Be intentional about maintaining friendships.
- Don’t blame God or assume that you did something to deserve this misery. Spend more time seeking intimacy with God than seeking answers to your questions. “What’s next” is a better question than “why did this happen.”
- Don’t proof-text. You can find justification for anything in Scripture if you look hard enough. Search the Scriptures to understand the character of God and how He relates to His children.
- Don’t work harder. Work smarter. Equip and empower others to make decisions and do ministry. Have a day off and guard it religiously. Have a definite stop time.
- Don’t passively “wait” on the Lord. Actively trust in the Lord as you explore options.
- Don’t measure success by how much you can tolerate. Measure success by the content of your character and the quality of your relationships with God and others.
- Don’t believe that you are trapped. Change your narrative. I’m not trapped. God has not abandoned me. I am free to seek new opportunities while I am remaining faithful to God in this place.
What if it is time to go? What does that mean?
- Might be a new mindset – a new way of thinking. (Romans 12:2)
- Might be a new location – fresh start in a new place.
- Might be a new kind of ministry – a new vocation. (See Episode 20 – Secular no more!)
- Might be a new clarity of focus – fresh vision.
- Might be new healthier habits – choosing to operate in your sweet spot.
- Might be new God-given desire. (Psalm 37:4)
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*Special thanks to Keith Cooper (Guitar Music)
*Special thanks to Nathan Woodward (Saxophone Music)