It was challenging enough to pastor a church in the last half of the 20th century and we certainly had our trials (mostly due to circumstances beyond our control) when I was pastor of Eastside Baptist Church in Marietta up until 2003 when I resigned.
However, from my observations it must be far more challenging to pastor a church 14 years later. The problems are more formidable, the culture is more hostile, the expectations are often higher and the church members are often more critical.
So, when should a pastor write his letter of resignation? Someone suggested that the pastor should write his letter of resignation on Monday morning – maybe even every Monday morning.
A typical Sunday may go like this: there were not enough workers to serve in the preschool area and one child bit another child and the parents of both children were furious that the two beleaguered workers in a room with 23 children didn’t prevent the cannibalistic behavior of children devouring one another.
The offering was only half of what the budget required. The attendance was 67 less than the same Sunday one year ago. The sound system failed. The chairman of the deacons who was supposed to lead the offertory prayer called at the last minute to let the pastor know he was going to the NASCAR race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
As the people exited the church after the worship service one man complained about the music, another expressed gratitude that the sound system failed, because it was always too loud when it worked, and yet another commented that in his opinion every sermon was better than the next one.
Worst of all, no one made a profession of faith, no one came to the altar, and the service was so cold that you could have skated down the aisle.
So, to write your resignation on Monday morning is cathartic, therapeutic, and liberating. Once it is written, you put it in your desk drawer, get up, dust yourself off, start all over again and go on about your work and ministry.
On a more serious note, it is never a good idea to write a letter of resignation when you are discouraged. Life is hard and pastoring a church requires a lot of prayer, effort and faithfulness. However, I do believe God can redirect a man’s ministry.
First, God may release a pastor from his church and open the door to another ministry. It is always better to be spiritually motivated by a pull to another church rather than physically or emotionally motivated by a push from one’s present church. If the pastor is released from his present ministry and called to another one by God, then write the letter.
Second, I believe that God still honors His Word, but some people have become Gospel hardened and Jesus said, “Do not cast your pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6). He also said, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town” (Matthew 10:14). If you have honestly served God to the best of your ability and proclaimed the Gospel as passionately and powerfully as you know how in the power of the Spirit, then God may release you from preaching to those “stiff-necked” people. Write the letter.
Third, sometimes a pastor can become weary of a church that incessantly is bickering and in conflict. A church can have a reputation like a marriage. Some churches are like Ralph and Alice Kramden’s marriage in the Honeymooners or more recently like Ray and Deborah Barone’s marriage in Everybody Loves Raymond. No one wants a marriage like either one of them.
And no one wants to be pastor of a church that has perennial conflicts and crises. Sometimes pastor search committees are less than honest with the prospective pastor and it doesn’t take long for him to find out where all the potholes are, but they are many and they are deep. Most pastors can endure being swallowed by a whale, but it is the consistent nibbling of minnows that drive a pastor to distraction. If a pastor is in that kind of church he may be given freedom to open his heart to other possibilities. Write the letter.
Fourth a pastor should request the privilege of writing a letter of resignation if he is fired or terminated for no scriptural reason. That is generally far better than trying to gather up a remnant of followers and attempt to split one church in order to start another one. Incidentally, there are too many forced terminations in the ministry. If there is conflict and a need for reconciliation call our church minister relations team at the GBMB for direction and mediation.
Fifth, a pastor may resign from a church when the family’s needs are not being met. A pastor’s family is always more important than his church, because if a pastor loses his family, he will almost always lose his ministry as well. In some cases a pastor may need to move closer to aging parents, but “family needs” constitute a legitimate reason for writing a letter of resignation.
Sixth, sometimes a pastor needs to write a letter of resignation when he feels like his work at a certain church is completed. He has taken the church as far as his abilities will permit. To remain longer would be frustrating to him and limit the effectiveness of the church.
However, whenever possible remain where you are until God opens another door. If God has called you he will provide for your needs; and if He shuts one door He will at least open a window.