I gave up church for Lent.
There. I said it. I gave up church for Lent. I didn’t give up Jesus Christ or the mission to go and make disciples. I didn’t give up helping others in the name of Jesus. I didn’t give up praying for the broken and the lost. I didn’t give up the study of God’s holy word. I just gave up church.
I have been in ministry for many years and there has been an incredible amount of joy within this work because the work was for God and no one else. I found myself being led to places I never dreamed of – Tanzania and El Salvador to name a few. I have met people who have changed me for the better and I have experienced life in a way that honors God to the best of my ability.
Pastoring a church was never something I saw myself doing. In fact, when I finally accepted the lifelong call upon my life, I knew that I would be serving outside of the local church. I was excited about the opportunities God was placing before me. But then He changed my direction and led me to pulpit ministry.
I can still remember the first Sunday after my initial appointment. I was absolutely terrified. What if I said the wrong thing or did the wrong thing? That fear never fully left me but it did change. It went from fear of saying the wrong thing to fear of not being bold enough in saying the right thing. Over the years I have spent hours praying over empty pews, calling upon the Holy Spirit to fill their hearts with His glory. I have begged for dry bones to be brought back to life only to see them continue to lay dormant. I have wept hundreds of tears at altars in the churches I have served, grieving for the ones who are lukewarm in their faith or have no faith at all. I have poured every ounce of my being into those I have been called to shepherd and I did it for the Lord.
So, why give up church for Lent? Because God told me it was time to leave in order to serve His people.
Any pastor who has a relationship with God will tell you there are times to stay and there are times to go. If you don’t follow God’s lead, you risk your physical health, your family, your spiritual peace, and the peace of those whom you are called to lead. Unfortunately, too often, pastors stay too long because of personal choices rather than God’s will. So, I gave up church for Lent because God told me it was time.
How do you know when it’s time to leave?
You realize you’re a hired hand rather than a shepherd.
Having grown up around farmers, I know a thing or two about the hierarchy of farming. In scripture, there are many stories about shepherds. Jesus refers to himself as a shepherd and how his sheep know his voice and follow him because they trust him. A shepherd has a relationship with the sheep. He leads them and they follow because they trust him to keep them safe. A hired hand does not have a relationship with the sheep. They are hired to do short term manual labor and nothing more.
It’s a tough gig for a pastor to be placed in a church that has a long history. They are used to pastors coming and going so they often won’t let the pastor really in as a part of the church. Unfortunately, a pastor cannot be a true shepherd if they are always seen as a hired hand, there to just do the work without the trust and integration that goes along with it.
I was a hired hand. I look back at the last several years and see that I was never really embraced as the shepherd. It has been a very tough pill to swallow.
Your leadership has lost authority.
This really goes hand-in-hand with being a hired hand. The truth is that once people have lost respect for your ability to lead, you aren’t able to gain that back. It’s over and time to go, even when it’s not your fault.
I am able to look at my career and see where I could have done things differently in certain situations. I think most reasonable people can do that. But the things that caused my leadership to be forever damaged still baffles me. I simply shared the Word of God. That’s it. And when the Word was trampled on, and my love for all people was questioned, I knew I could no longer lead. And the emails and text messages proved it. They were vicious and not reflective of the children of God.
Your family pays a price.
Let me just say that I always put God first in my life. I thank God for everything and everyone. Because of that, my family comes second and the church follows them. But my family is not up for debate. My husband and son are off-limits. And yet, my husband has been talked about by church members and even a former pastor of that church. Why? Because he believes the holy scriptures are worth dying for. My son has experienced backlash with a church leader. Why? Because the leader wants to hurt me.
If you want to criticize me, fine. If you want to talk about me, fine. But when you do something to hurt my family … Well, I’m working through the forgiveness that I need to offer.
Being a family in ministry requires a price to be paid. And that price often means loneliness and a lack of trust in those around you. The price is incredibly high but there are lines that should never be crossed.
Gossip takes precedent over compassion.
I despise gossip. I really do. And even though I try to stay away from it I have succumbed to its allure from time-to-time. And the guilt I have felt has been tremendous. Thankfully, God’s grace is greater than our guilt. But gossip has become one of those sins that people overlook.
I have found that gossip has done more harm to the church and our witness in the world than anything else. Gossip does nothing more than tear people down. Paul warned the church that nothing good comes from it. “For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.” 2 Cor 12:20
Ministers in today’s world have to prepare themselves to be the focus of gossip. And while some of it is to be expected, the gossip that cuts most deep is that which happens by your congregation and within your church walls. I have not been immune. Most of it I have tried to let roll off my back. But there are some things that tend to replay in my head over and over like a broken record. An even greater concern is the fact that more energy is often put into tearing down a minister than actually providing compassion and care for him or her.
Ministers are not perfect. They are going to mess up. But a minister who is there to truly serve God is there for your spiritual life and will be judged on how well they led you. And they need your compassion and care not your malicious words.
“Obey your spiritual leaders and be willing to do what they say. For their work is to watch over your souls, and God will judge them on how well they do this. Give them reason to report joyfully about you to the Lord and not with sorrow, for then you will suffer for it too.” Heb 13:17
The simple takeaway is to be kind to your ministers. Don’t forget to encourage them and show that you are eager to be a part of the family of God. Offer compassion when you see they are hurting or sick. Don’t forget their birthday or other special days in their life. When they are sick, send a card or a text letting them know you are praying for them. When someone in their family dies, treat their loss the same as you treat others within your church family. And when their time comes to move from your church to another mission field, acknowledge the work they have done and the love they have shown you.
On my last day at the church, I wanted nothing more than leave with a sense of completion, knowing I had served faithfully and had hopefully changed some lives in the name of Jesus Christ. I have had my appointment changed before so leaving a church is not something new to me. It’s part of the process. One lady had asked me the week before, “Do you want us to do something for you next week?” This precious woman meant it with all of her heart. She was very sincere but honestly, there was no way I was going to say, “Yes. I want a party.” And I genuinely didn’t. A big meal was not necessary. But after four years of walking through trials and triumphs with this group of people: end of life events, weddings, marriage struggles, anxiety, questions of faith, family issues, baptisms, first communions — a simple card of thanks would have meant so much. Instead, my name was removed from the sign before I even completed my last day.
To be clear, I do not believe it was malicious. I think there are a lot of people who genuinely love and care for me and my family within the church. I just think that as a hired hand, there was no thought given to compassion for the difficult but obedient decision I was making.
“And now, friends, we ask you to honor those spiritual leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you along in your obedience. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love!” (1 Thes 5:12-13)
The Word of God is no longer the authority.
This is the ultimate reason I gave up church for Lent. When a church no longer sees God as essential, when they no longer see the holy Word as the authority it is, it is nothing more than a social club.
The denomination I am currently in is in a tailspin. And it is all because half the members do not believe that scripture is the holy Word of God. They believe it is an important guide to better living but it is not the authority. In other words, the Bible is up for interpretation based on what feels right at the moment.
As much as I want to sometimes just shake a person and make them believe, that’s not my job nor my mission. Jesus Christ told us upon his ascension: “I have been given all authority in heaven and earth. Therefore go and make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and then teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you; and be sure of this—that I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” Matt 28:18-20
That’s my job. Make disciples of Jesus Christ. Baptize them. Teach them to obey all the commands Jesus gave us. That’s it! And that is exactly what I did, without apology or hesitation. I taught the church what the Bible said. And that created a firestorm that I never anticipated. It impacted my spiritual life and my physical life. My stress level was at an alarming level and I simply could not pour anything else into anyone else. And it was all because I was watching the death of an entire church denomination.
The fact that some believe scripture can be changed is sad. The fact that some believe sins aren’t really sins if we say they aren’t is sad. But to ask any disciple of Jesus Christ to deny the authority of God’s holy Word is beyond reproach.
My second to last week, the church met to discuss the future like many other churches across the denomination were doing. The primary focus at this meeting was to put out information so members could be informed and ask questions. No decisions were actually being made at that point regarding denomination affiliation. But there was a single moment when the breath left me and I felt the chill of evil all around. As we sat in the sanctuary — the place we had just worshipped our Lord and Savior — a member stood up and said, “We all know that the Old Testament is fiction.” Even now I am shaking as I replay that moment. I can recall with clarity the silence as not a single person rebuked that statement. And at that moment, God whispered to me, “You are faithful.”
Lord, in your mercy, how did we get to this point? How did we get to a place where your Word is questioned and sneered at? How did we get to a place where you are no longer viewed as the master of our souls?
“Jesus said to them, ‘While I was still with you, I told you that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Books of the Prophets, and in the Psalms had to happen.’ Then he helped them understand the Scriptures.” Luke 24:44-45
If the Old Testament is fiction, if the Law of Moses is debunked, then Jesus Christ is not the Son of God. He is not our savior and redeemer. If the Old Testament is fiction then the New Testament is fiction, as well, and that means that Jesus Christ is just a man who pulled the greatest prank in human history.
But praise be to God we have proof that it’s all true.
For me, and many ministers like me, giving up church for Lent or any other season in their life is absolutely necessary when God’s Word is no longer viewed as the authority it is. I gave up church for Lent because I believe in God and His absoluteness. I gave up church for Lent because I believe that the church should not be a battlefield but instead, it should be an armory. I gave up church for Lent because the world became more important than the Word.