Now, it might seem counterintuitive to say this. After all, if someone has received a high calling from God, shouldn’t they stick with that position/job/calling no matter what? Doesn’t quitting = abandoning your call?
Let me explain a little bit about what led me to this conclusion. I’ve been reflecting on this based on two different stories, one from the world of sports and the other from church circles. This past weekend, Andrew Luck, a premier quarterback at the top of his game, announced his retirement, shocking the NFL world.
At the same time, Tullian Tchividjian, grandson of Billy Graham and a former pastor who has been stripped of his preaching credentials and fired from two churches for adultery and sexual immorality, announced that he is now starting an independent church. And Tchividjian is certainly not the only high-profile pastor who has left a church due to some form of sin and misconduct (sexual, financial, or otherwise), only to start up another church free from any accountability or oversight.
Here are four reasons why I think pastors should be able to quit their job/position at any time.
1. If I recognize that the work is ultimately God’s, I will be able to quit at any time.
If someone cannot quit their job as pastor, there is a good chance that they may be placing too much weight on their own shoulders. We work, but the Spirit of God ultimately produces fruit. We must minister with passion and commitment, but if we cannot step back, it shows that we are not just fulfilling our role but that we are trying to take over God’s.
2. If I recognize that my role is to empower and equip the body for the work, not do all the work myself, I will be able to quit at any time.
Too many pastors (and too many congregations) assume that the pastor is paid to do the work of the church. That is not biblical. The pastor’s job is to equip, edify, and empower the body to do the work of the church. The pastor is a crucial piece in the life of the body, but certainly not the only piece. If a pastor leaves and a church falls apart (a scenario that happens all too often), it usually reveals that both the pastor and the church had an unbiblical view of the pastor’s role.
3. If I have incorporated a Sabbath rhythm into my way of life, I will be able to quit at any time.
A Sabbath way of life recognizes that we all have limits and that we are called to work from a place of resting in God. Pastors without a Sabbath rhythm are pastors who perpetually overestimate what God is calling them to do. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, these pastors take responsibility for what was never theirs in the first place, attempting to do God’s work without acknowledging God as Creator and Sustainer. The weekly rhythm of Sabbath rest reminds us, in part, that we are finite creatures, dependent on God to sustain us. There are too many pastors who preach the sufficiency of God’s grace but are practical Pelagians when it comes to their life and ministry.
4. If I find my identity in Jesus Christ, I will be able to quit at any time.
I believe that the real reason so many pastors can’t walk away—even when they are spiritually and morally disqualified—is because their ministry is not about what they can give or Who they proclaim but about what they get out of ministry.
There is power in being a pastor.
There is affirmation in being a pastor.
There is visibility and identity in being a pastor.
If you are not resting in the identity that comes from Jesus and that alone, you will look to pastoral ministry to find that identity and to get the deepest needs of your heart met. The restlessness and perpetual ministry motion of these would-be pastors only confirm Augustine’s insight: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
On the other hand, being able to quit, as I see it, can only come from having an identity that is grounded in being beloved by Jesus. This is the freedom that comes from truly getting the gospel, not just intellectually but in the deepest parts of my soul. For pastors, then, my challenge is this: ask the Spirit to help you grasp the love of Jesus (Eph. 3:14-21), so much so that you could walk away from the position, power, and influence, and be fine with it.
Be able to quit. Only then can your ministry truly begin.