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The title of a recent Christianity Today article caught my attention. It read, “I’ve Reached My Breaking Point as a Pastor.”
The article cited a new Barna study that “discovered that 38 percent of pastors have given real, serious consideration to quitting the ministry in the past year.” I don’t know how that compares to previous years, but 38 percent seems high.
Peter Chin, the article’s author, went on to admit: “I am one of that 38 percent. Even in the best of times, pastoral ministry has felt like a broad and heavy calling. But the events of the past few years have made it a crushing one. The presidential election. Unrest around racial injustice. A global pandemic that has taken the lives of over 800,000 Americans.”
I’ve heard pastors say the same kinds of things. They are tired, wounded, and ready to throw in the towel. I was at a meeting recently where I heard a denominational official state that the church is facing a national shortage of qualified pastoral candidates. The old hands are getting out. Younger people are shying away.
Chin was right: the last few years have been difficult. Political divisions have flowed over into the church. The pandemic made matters worse. During its first few months, pastors were forced to make difficult decisions almost daily – decisions that half the congregation would loathe, and half would applaud.
Yes, the last few years have been hard on pastors, but it would be a mistake to think that this generation of pastors is the first to face great difficulty. It would be a further mistake to think that people outside of pastoral ministry are spared the stress.
Recent data suggest that more married couples are reaching their breaking point. According to National Law Review, 20 percent of couples who have been married five months or less applied for divorce in 2020. That is nearly double pre-pandemic numbers.
Similar stresses exist in the workplace. According to Emile Hallez, writing in Investment News, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis estimates that 3 million people have retired early as a result of the “COVID environment.” The retirement rate of Baby Boomers has more than doubled over the previous year.
There is a time for making changes, switching careers, even retiring, but the time is never right to despair or to cave in. Because there have always been stresses, sometimes worse than what we have faced in the pandemic, the writers of Scripture called people to persevere. Indeed, perseverance is one of the Bible’s most highly esteemed virtues.
Perseverance is the virtue we wish we could do without. But we can’t. Without perseverance, we will lose hope. Perseverance is the foundation of every virtue. C. S. Lewis put it this way: God gives us the “power of always trying again. For however important [any virtue] may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still.”
God gives us “the power of always trying again.” That is a superpower, if ever there was one. Perseverance may not leap tall buildings in a single bound, but it scales them one step at a time and eventually reaches the top.
I have never been a Dallas Cowboys fan, but I am awed by Emmet Smith’s career rushing record, which has held now for 18 years. Smith, who stood a mere 5 feet, nine inches – a Lilliputian by NFL standards – ran for 18,355 yards, which is approximately 10-and-a-half miles. What makes that feat so impressive is that some behemoth on the other side knocked him down every 4 yards. But Emmet Smith had the “power of always trying again.”
People generally don’t make it through career setbacks, marriage difficulties, or long-term health problems because they are strong or smart, but because they don’t give up. Albert Einstein once said of himself, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” He persevered.
God stands ready to help his people persevere in faith. He strengthens them to put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, that is all we need to do.
(First published by Gannett.)