Out of Your Cave, and Into Your Call
I've been training, raising, and coaching pastors for a long time now. Over time, I’ve realized that all spiritual leaders will invariably and inevitably enter a paralyzing season. We get stuck.
Studies show that senior pastors typically change churches every five years, associate pastors, every two-and-a-half years, and youth pastors, every year. It may be that God is calling people to another location, but I think more often than not, we change jobs because we feel stuck in our current spot. You bang your head against the ceiling long enough and you just start feeling, "I think another place would be better."
Not Your Calling
Often we switch locations or move around instead of trying to break through those ceilings to get unstuck. In my book Unstuck, I identified in the prophet Elijah's story several issues that affected his life. As it relates to leadership, there are a couple of major sticking points with pastors—one of them being we embrace things that we were never called to do.
Elijah took on the responsibility of trying to control and change things that God had never asked him to control or change. The first thing God has Elijah do after asking him to leave the cave is to delegate three different leaders—Elisha, his apprentice, being one of them. God is saying, “Hey, give away some of these things that you’ve been trying to do. I didn’t ask you to carry it all.”
Elijah was trying to control the governmental destiny of Israel; he was trying to turn a nation around. God had called him to be a prophet, not to be a king. I believe God was saying, "Release. You're overwhelmed with trying to do things I never called you to do." I believe leaders get stuck because they’re not clear about what God has called them to do. There needs to be clarity. Has God called you to do this or not?
The other common area that often affects us as pastors is isolation. Elijah had that seep into his life as well. In fact, his whole narrative speaks to a theme of loneliness. He feels like people aren't with him; leaders aren’t with him. Yet, he complains about these very people and even to God himself. "You called me to do this, but I don't feel like you're really doing what you were supposed to do; you’re not holding up your end."
He ends up by himself, isolated, in a cave in the desert for 40 days. Caves are quiet and dark; they make a great place to isolate. I think a lot of leaders, when they're stressed with ministry or frustrated with a board that's uncooperative or disappointed when they didn’t see results that they expected to see, isolate themselves like Elijah did.
There's a big difference between solitude and isolation. Solitude we need in our lives, but isolation is a whole different animal. Solitude: you're there to hear from God, to listen, to meditate. Isolation: we block out everything and we're alone with our own thoughts. That’s the worst place you can be.
I sit down and talk with a lot of pastors that feel alone. It's hard to break through, hard to get them to open up because it's that sense of, "I'm alone in this. The weight's heavy, and I get isolated, and I just rehearse negative thoughts. No one's for me. God is not with me." Elijah was at that point where it even led him to think suicidal thoughts. I think a lot of pastors struggle in those areas.
We hear a lot about pastor burnout. But I think that burnout is not as much about the energy that you're expending, as much as it is about the energy that you put into things that are ultimately being wasted. The things that I love to do, I can do a lot of; instead of feeling exhausted afterwards, I feel revitalized. If I put a lot of energy into the things that I don't like to do or that I’m not called to do, my battery's not being recharged, and I get drained.
I don't think it's about pastors working too hard, necessarily. I think it's about pastors having clarity in their call. We spend a lot of time and energy doing things that I don’t think God has ever called us to do: trying to control people we can't control or change circumstances we can't change. I think that's what exhausting for most leaders.
Clarity of Calling
I believe that my primary responsibility, my call, is to help people experience a dynamic, life-changing relationship with God via his son, Jesus Christ. That's my call—to make disciples. However, I do believe that part of the presence of the church is to bring Kingdom values to wherever we live: that's justice, and peace, and righteousness. It involves education; it involves wages; it involves job training; it involves the things that affect our community. In a city like Chicago, that can be so overwhelming. We're in some of those really tough neighborhoods.
I believe we need to bring Kingdom values to the city where we live; however, I, as a pastor, need to understand what I can and can’t do. I have to be clear about what God has called me to do. I understand that there are some huge needs in the city of Chicago, and everybody wants to recruit you to their cause. I believe in a lot of causes, but I have to be clear about what God has called me specifically to do.
My job is pretty easy. If there's an area I know that we really need to work in, I work to find a leader that is capable, has a passion in that area, and is called to that. My job, really, is to open up that door and coach and walk alongside them, but they're the ones that lead it.
A leader has to be clear about his or her calling and clear about where they need to be released, supported, and encouraged, but everybody's need doesn't constitute your call. We need believing politicians in the system; we need strong businessmen. I’m not called to either of these things. I want to back them, encourage them, and bless them, but they're going to have to live out their own calling in that space.
Define Your Significance
We all have to wrestle through our expectations, and we can get stuck on that. Everybody has to consider, "What defines my significance?" Is it the crowd? Is it my calling? That's when you get honest with yourself and with God about it. That's where some of the breaking and release happens. "All right, God, I'll serve you, even though this may be extremely difficult."
I saw that in my parents. They went to some really, really tough places. People used to call Spain "the missionary graveyard," because it had less than 1 percent Evangelical Christians. It's really tough, even to this day.
I learned the power of relationship and perseverance from my parents. When I came to the U.S., I had never been a part of a big church. My parents’ church met in a horse stable. So small didn't scare me. I just figured everything starts super small.
I came out of Bible school and started with this little church of 18 people. I think it really prepared me. I was used to the unchurched and a lack of resources. I think my dad helped give me a real pioneer spirit to allow space for something strong to come out of very little. We start with nothing and we grow it.
I had seen my parents do that in multiple cities. That was a powerful tool given to me—the power to know that God can use just a small group to do some extraordinary things. Don't be afraid of the small.
Even though I came to the U.S. with simple expectations, at times I’ve thought, “What if I'm in this little inner city church that has a measly budget and a lot of broken people? What if this is my place for years to come?"
Some of our team is in Spain. I thought, originally, I was going to Spain. I wondered if I would have the patience and perseverance that they've had. I don't know if I could've labored as faithfully as some of my friends have in places where they've seen very little fruit.
Fortunately, I'm in a place where I've seen a lot of fruit. We've baptized over a thousand people in the last three years, but in some of the places where my friends are doing ministry in Spain, they’ve had to labor hard and strong just see two people baptized in a year. The expectations have to be approached very differently.
You have to understand that your significance isn't necessarily in just the results that you see with your eyes. It's with your calling and with the sense that you’re doing what God has called you to do.
Mark Jobe is the lead pastor at New Life Church in Chicago. He is passionate about mentoring young leaders, planting city churches, and inspiring change in urban areas through church restarts and community engagement. Mark will be the featured speaker at Aspen's Pastors Lunch on September 12, 2017, in Naperville, IL, and at Aspen's Alignment Conference on October 17, 2017, in Westfield, IN.