Knowing when to quit isn’t a specialty of mine. Staying is a strength with a corresponding weakness. 2022 was a challenging year for everyone I know. Without exception, every pastor, leader, or parent would say 2022 was the hardest or one of the most brutal years they have ever lived. I have lots of speculation as to why that is, but little certainty.
My heart breaks for those with whom I have had the privilege of listening to the unique sorrows they have walked. The older I get, the more I learn, and the fewer answers I feel like I have. I have also learned that pastors are expected to have answers, but I’m not sure that is a good thing for pastors or the people they lead. It can lead to pride in pastors and misplaced dependence on those they lead.
I realize many pastors or leaders feel like quitting. I haven’t talked to a pastor who hasn’t contemplated quitting in 2022. Relational conflicts in the church are more profound and more pervasive than I have ever seen. Social pressure from within and outside the church to preach another gospel is stronger than I have ever seen. As a result, most pastors feel isolated relationally and like a failure professionally.
While they are not answers and may not even be helpful for you, here are the things I think we need to do more of in 2023
We need grace and be dispensers of grace.
In our society we have lost the art of charity in our relationships. In our churches, we have fixed on the wrong enemy. Rather than seeing what is happening as a spiritual attack on pastors, leaders, and churches and joining together to fight against that spiritual attack, we fill relational gaps with the worst version of someone rather than believing the best in them. Pastors are not exempt. Rather than working through painful situations too often, we leave for greener pastors and bigger pulpits. Pastors, we don’t need a bigger church with a bigger budget; we don’t need a church that meets our needs. We need grace. Buckets of grace, grace given, and grace received.
We need strength and to strengthen others.
The challenge with 2022 is we were coming out of a worldwide pandemic and faced challenges as pastors and parents we never had to face. I pray we never have to face again. We were maxed out heading into a year that didn’t let up. Strength is something God gives us each day. How he does that is through the encouragement of his Spirit and Word. Another way God strengthens us is through us loaning strength to one another. Community must make a comeback in 2023. Technology has its place, but human contact and presence are irreplaceable and more necessary than ever.
We need the mercy of God.
This year has been a string of personal situations that required me to humble myself again and again. These situations are not easy, but they are painfully good. They remind me of my need for mercy and community. 19th Century poet William Ernest Henley proclaiming the radical individualistic cry that has found its home in 21st Century man, says
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
William Henley says that when difficulty comes our way, we suck it up and fight back alone. Henley ends the poem with the radical individualism that has led our culture into a constant state of anxiety and depression. He doesn’t end with hope or humility but doubles down on his ability to handle tragedy.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
This is the battle cry of a heart that has been hardened by sorrow but not softened by tears. What we need in 2023 is a greater awareness of the mercy of God. A great sense of our need and God’s supply.
Think about that poem and juxtapose its message with this beautiful hymn of worship by Cityalights. The second verse of Christ is mine Forevermore says this:
Mine are tears in times of sorrow
Darkness not yet understood
Through the valley I must travel
Where I see no earthly good
But mine is peace that flows from Heaven
And the strength in times of need
I know my pain will not be wasted
Christ completes his work in me
How beautiful is that? This hymn of faith is our message for 2023 that though you may travel through valleys where you will see no earthy good. Your pain will not be wasted. Strength and peace will be yours as Christ completes his work in you.
Your pain is not wasted. Christ will complete his work in you. May this be true for you and me.
Soli Deo Gloria