It came out of left court. Jay Wright, men’s basketball coach at Villanova, recently stunned the sports world by abruptly announcing his retirement. A college basketball Hall of Famer, Wright’s 21 years at Villanova have created a perennial powerhouse, winning the National Championship in 2016 and 2018 while racking up four Final Four appearances, including one this year. The question on everyone’s mind was “Why?”
At a press conference, Wright said he felt he had lost “the edge” this past season. He found himself trying to get fired up for team meetings or practice. “We say to our players, ‘You’re either 100% in or you’re against us.’ We couldn’t ask the players to give 100% and I’m giving 70%. It was the right time.”
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Wright isn’t the only one over the last season who has considered stepping down. This week Barna research released a new survey that found two out of five pastors (42%) have seriously considered leaving the ministry in the past year, an increase of 13% from a year ago.
Their three main reasons are no surprise: stress, loneliness and political division. More than half of pastors who have considered quitting full-time ministry (56%) cite “the immense stress of the job.” Two of five pastors say, “I feel lonely and isolated.” About the same number are worn from “current political divisions” that tear at their congregations. In each case, their hope tank has run dangerously low.
Although there are times when it is right to step down from full-time ministry, most pastors and other leaders in the church are not being called to leave. Instead, this season is an invitation to go deeper. Here are three ways to restore our soul in the face of relentless challenges.
- Slow down. This feels counter intuitive. In such a frenetic time, we think we should work harder, but that only leads us to burn out faster. With everything changing, we need time to consider the few things that will make the greatest impact, rather than react to every demand that masquerades as important. One avenue to a slowed-down spirituality is to take a full Sabbath day every week. Unplug from ministry and social media. Use the day instead to connect with God, engage in replenishing relationships, belly laugh, take in the beauty of nature, and do things that bring delight.
- Surrender. Many of us will need more than a single day to discern what is binding us, so we can let it go. After an absurdly busy season of ministry, my church graciously gave me a two-week study break to read, reflect, and restore. During that time, it became clear that we had come to the end of me. The church had gone as far as it could with whatever gifts, ideas and passion I possessed. Although a hard reality to swallow, it was good news! We could now get to the beginning of God. We began to pray, Lord, help us surrender what we have and receive what only You can give.
- Search For Your Call. In the crush of day-to-day ministry, it is easy to lose our why. Poet Maya Angelou once shared, “To really love someone is to know the song their heart sings and to hum it back to them on the days they forget.” Each of us entered ministry because of a deep-down calling. It was personal, clear and life-altering. But over time and tough circumstances, what was clear can get fuzzy – or lost. When that happens, try praying, “God, hum it back to me. I’ve forgotten.” It’s a prayer God loves to answer. Rediscovering our call can release a super nova of energy for the journey ahead.
All of us are going through a tough season right now. The temptation to quit has never been greater. But there is no power shortage in heaven. God is able to supply our every need in Christ Jesus – when we make our requests known. If we will slow down, surrender, and search for our call, we will discover more than enough hope to carry on.
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