I was asked some great questions this week as part of something I was doing. They were the kind of questions that I found were helpful reflectively. So I’m going to do some blog posts to answer them more fully and help me reflect on them a bit more.
Have we ever felt like moving away? Have we ever felt like giving up?
Ministry is hard. Our ministry hasn’t been harder than anyone elses. Every ministry has its different challenges and hardships. But there have been times when I have found myself toying with the idea of serving somewhere else. I’ve even, at one point, drafted my resignation letter and saved it on my laptop not because I was seriously contemplating it but because I need a way to express my frustrations and have something to pray through.
So what can make me feel like giving up? Sometimes that’s been because of hardship. The area where we are was described by someone as the ‘godless hole’ of his parish, it still largely remains so, ministry here is hard, the soil feels rock hard and baked in. Yes, we’ve seen people com to faith but only a handful. And some who’ve been keen to explore who Jesus is and we’ve begun to see changed have then been evicted from their housing or relocated to the other end of Doncaster, and that’s been heartbreaking. Others have come so far, seemingly engaging and attracted to Jesus, but then turn back or find themselves losing interest amidst the chaos of ordinary life.
There have been times when there have been difficult pastoral situations that have left me feeling like throwing in the towel, sometimes because of my own failures in those situations, and sometime because of the refusal to repent of others. Sometimes it has just been because of the sheer broken heartedness of seeing others walk away from the faith, or a little less painfully leave for a bigger and better church because we don’t have … (fill in the gap).
Sometimes it’s been because of the discouragement of our children. Being in small church is hard. There aren’t loads of other young people and when other families move away and friends relocate because their parents job changes that is tough. It’s tough on our children when those friends come back to visit and talk about their new church with an all singing all dancing youth group. It can be tough and discouraging with students, some of our young people go away to University and we know many won’t come back and our area doesn’t have that through flow of students some of whom may stay and be the next generation of leaders. (Student leaders/pastors bear that in mind when you write to small churches about any potential students they may be sending to you university city or town). That’s some of the push factors that can leave you feeling like what’s the point?.
Sometimes it’s the wider culture in Christianity that makes us think about moving. People, well meaningly but unhelpfully, suggesting that gifts are wasted in a small church, that somehow where we are isn’t strategic, or influential, or simply that it’s time we worked our way up to a bigger church after all just think of the people you can influence and send to areas of need (The trickle down theory is a stupid theory that doesn’t work and needs taking out the back of the shed and putting down once and for all!). It can be the frustration of so many needs but so few leaders. Or the frustrations of finance, we are very fortunate in the partnership we have with our sending church, but it is still discouraging seeing a deficit month after month, the spectre of bi-vocational ministry always potentially in the future does that mean we’ve failed in planting? After all that’s what the way we do planting suggests – here have 3 years of finance suggests what? That 3 years is enough to grow a church and sustain ministry – that may be true in some areas but not others. Or it can be the seeming hard heartedness of other larger churches to your needs, they take on their 5th worker whilst you labour on alone, or the para-church leader who encourages one of your elders to move to a bigger church to expand his influence. Or the way we view success in terms of raw numbers or budgets or other metrics. All those things are pull or push factors that come from the evangelical culture.
As you can see there are personal and local and national and impersonal factors that can make you think about moving away, giving up. Let me say I’m not discouraged, I’m not thinking of giving up. In the next couple of posts I’ll share something of why, the encouragements and the convictions. But I do think we as an evangelical culture need to reflect on this, so often our culture plays its part in discouraging small churches, planting in harder areas, and perseverance in the slog in favour of the greener, larger and more strategic.