Monday, March 29, 2010

Wrestling with God

I've heard from yet another preacher who is getting out. For the sake of his family.

Since the early days recorded in scripture, people of God have often sacrificed their families to do their work, such as the priests Aaron, Eli, and Samuel. It is speculated that the apostle Paul lost his family when he became a Christian missionary (although there might have been other issues there).

I know of a half dozen other ministers who are leaving or have left because of concerns of family or for health reasons--both emotional and physical. I know one very intelligent person who has to leave because he just doesn't feel like he's good enough. But in fact, he is. In fact, all these people I'm thinking of are better than average at their jobs. They are gentle, creative, hardworking, and idealistic.

There are plenty of lousy ministers out there who ought to find some other jobs, but these losses are going to hurt the Church and we're not going to easily replace them. Plus, although I think they deserve to be happy, I suspect they're not going to be able to find peace outside of the ministry.

Many people create a scandal in their lives that make it impossible to stay or even re-enter the ministry. Are they wolves in sheep's clothing or are they wounded healers that just couldn't see straight enough in the end to say, "I want out."?

But these recent departures are not leaving a wake of injured souls. They are the injured souls. They're trying to find healing for themselves and the people they love the most after having their most of their vitality sapped.

Why have I remained in the ministry? I've tried to leave but never for very long. I have been ambivalent about the ministry ever since I entered as a young man. I wanted to be a good pastor, but at the same time, I've always wished I could do something else.

I can relate to Jacob, who spent an entire night wrestling with an angel of God, refusing to quit until God blessed him. He came from the fight exhausted and crippled but he got his blessing, I guess. And his name was changed to Israel, which means contender with God. Oh, how I relate!

Why must it be so hard? Why, as we mature, does God seem to try to disappear, even as we wrestle to hold onto him? And why does his church sap and break the very best of his servants?

The sun has not yet appeared for this day but when it does, the wrestling will not cease like it did for Jacob. The wrestling and the night continues.


  1. > Why, as we mature, does God seem to try to disappear, even as we wrestle to hold onto him?

    I know it doesn't help, but you're not alone in this. I feel like my strength is nearly done most days, and I'm no closer to receiving a blessing than I was a quarter of a century ago. Adding to the frustration is the suspicion that it's my fault for being... the sort of person I am.

    But that's just me. I don't know why churches can't leave space for their ministers to be human, with needs and uncertainties.

    May you find peace that's not a surrender.

    - Chris.

  2. My dad has been a pastor for 35 years. When I told him that I was considering going into ministry he gave me some good advice. He said, "If you can do something else...then do it."

    I'd really rather do a hundred other things besides ministry. There are so many draw-backs to it. You always serve and never get fed yourself. You can never sit and be in a worship service. It's like watching a magician do tricks you already know how to do.

    But at the same time it is completely empty to do anything else. Even if I really love the thing, and even if I'm good at it. I love to cook. I'm a good cook. But I last about 3 months in a restaurant job before I realize that I'm just on the verge of being thrown overboard and swallowed by a big fish.

    God gets his way. And he's always right. And man does that annoy me sometimes.

  3. Andrew, that's the same advice I got when I first started. And it's true that I can't seem to do anything else. I like the sentence: "It's like watching a magician do tricks you already know how to do."

    Sanityman, Thanks for writing. I hope both of us can find some peace and clarity in our search.

  4. "Why, as we mature, does God seem to try to disappear, even as we wrestle to hold onto him?"

    It was this wrestling that led to my de-conversion.

  5. Mike, the sad truth is that most people don't care enough to wrestle with these things. I have to believe there is some reward for sincere honest searching even if the search leads us down paths that distress us and others.

    Neither one of us are done with our journey, are we?

  6. Nope, I think we have some good journeying left in us.