This past Sunday, I announced I was stepping down from pastoring the contemporary service at Gateway United Baptist Church.
I started serving as an experiment. It was an experiment for the church to see if there was a demand for a contemporary service. The average age of the church was about seventy. They needed to reach younger people. And it was an experiment for me. Did I have the time to pastor bi-vocationally on top of working for GES and raising a family, etc.?
After a year and a half of working seven days a week, I came to an answer: “Nope.”
I felt tired.
It wasn’t due to the congregation. They were easy and supportive. In my preaching, I emphasized that everyone has a ministry from God, and everyone has a role to play in the Body, so they were all expected to contribute to the Church. And you know what? They stepped up. While most churches work with 20% of the people doing 80% of the work, in our case, I think 90% of the people were serving. And the other 10% just didn’t get a chance yet. That made things much easier for me. Moreover, while I hear from other pastors about congregations that backstab them and plot to get rid of them, I didn’t experience any of that. The little congregation was good to me.
But…I was still tired.
Part of it was that in the last year or so, Bob and I had changed our day-to-day work. On top of what we were doing before, we now do a daily blog and a daily podcast. Frankly, that takes a lot of mental energy.
I also had to consider how one area of ministry was growing a lot, while the other was not. For example, monthly traffic to the GES website has jumped from 21k unique users a year ago, to 58k unique users now. And that number is going up every month. Add in magazine readers, book readers, and radio listeners, and we might be reaching 90k people a month. Financially, we’ve been making budget. More people are signing up to be monthly donors (see here). It’s all very encouraging and energizing.
In the meantime, at church, our little service grew a little, but not much. We were averaging maybe 20-30 people. If everyone showed up, we’d get to 50. I know that individually, those twenty or so people were growing spiritually. But it was a little discouraging to see empty pews. And finances were tight. But most of all, I became frustrated with myself. I knew that, while more needed to be done (in terms of visitation and outreach), I simply didn’t have the time to do it.
Leading up to my resignation, I talked to several friends about it. “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors, there is safety” (Prov 11:13 KJV). I’ve learned that, in making these big decisions, aside from prayer, I should seek out and listen to good counsel. My brother and sister were helpful. But the turning point for me came when I was having dinner with Pastor John Lee. I shared a little of what I was thinking, namely, that between work, family, doctoral studies, and bi-vocational pastoring, I was doing too much. Then he said something that stuck with me: “Your kids are at an age when they actually want to spend time with you. A few years from now they won’t. This is the time to be around them.”
He was right. Something had to give in favor of having more time with my kids.
Again and again, I am reminded that the hardest decisions in life are not between choosing good or doing evil, but having to choose to do this good over that good.