Thursday, July 19, 2007

Resigning from the ministry

In my reading and listening over the last couple of months (ever since my pastor submitted his resignation--please don't forget to pray for tomorrow's Presbytery meeting) I've stumbled across a number of helpful things to put into perspective the great difficulty of the ministry. Beside the farewell sermon from Edwards, I learned of Charles Simeon (a Calvinistic Anglican) and how the deacons of his church locked the pews during worship services because they didn't like him. They did this for 10 years!

I also stumbled across this timeless letter from a middle-aged pastor to his mentor. It's piercing in its analysis of the difficulties of the pastor.

My Dear Jim:

I am through. Yesterday I handed in my resignation, to take effect at once, and this morning I began work for the Land Company. I shall not return to the pastorate. I think I can see into your heart as you read these words and behold not a little disappointment, if not disgust. I don't blame you at all, for I am somewhat disgusted with myself. Do you recall the days in the seminary when we talked of the future and painted pictures of what we were to do for the kingdom of God? We saw the boundless need for unselfish Christian service and longed to be out among men doing our part towards the world's redemption. I shall never forget that last talk on the night before our graduation. You were to go to the foreign field and I to the Church.

We had brave dreams of usefulness, and you have realized them. As I look back across twenty-five years I can see some lives that I have helped, and some things which I have been permitted to do that are worth while; but, sitting here tonight, I am more than half convinced that God never intended me to be a minister. If He did, I am not big enough and brave enough to pay the price. Even if it leads you to write me down a coward, I'm going to tell you why I've quit.

In these years I have found not a few earnest, unselfish, consecrated Christians. I do not believe that I am specially morbid or unfair in my estimate. So far as I know my own heart, I am not bitter. But through all these years a conviction has been growing within me that the average church-member cares precious little about the kingdom of God and its advancement, or the welfare of his fellow men. He is a Christian in order that he may save his soul from hell, and for no other reason. He does as little as he can, lives as indifferently as he dares. If he thought he could gain heaven without even lifting his finger for others, he would jump at the chance. Never have I known more than a small minority of any church which I have served to be really interested in and unselfishly devoted to God's work. It took my whole time to pull and push and urge and persuade the reluctant members of my church to undertake a little something for their fellow men. They took a covenant to be faithful in attendance upon the services of the church and not one out of ten ever thought of attending prayer-meeting. A large percentage seldom attended church in the morning, and a pitifully small number in the evening. It did not seem to mean anything to them that they had dedicated themselves to the service of Christ.

I am tired; tired of being the only one in the church from whom real sacrifice is expected; tired of straining and tugging to get Christian people to live like Christians; tired of planning work for my people and then being compelled to do it myself or see it left undone; tired of dodging my creditors when I would not need to if I had what is due me; tired of the affrighting vision of a penniless old age. I am not leaving Christ. I love Him. I shall still try to serve Him.

Judge me leniently, for I cannot bear to lose your friendship.

Yours of Old,