When to Quit
In the past, I’ve written about leaving well and laying off staff. What about those hard days in ministry when quitting crosses your mind? When will you know that it’s time to step away from vocational ministry? Is there a time when quitting really is the only option?
You may be familiar with Jesus’ words in Luke 14:27-28 (ESV) about the cost of discipleship: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”
As a pastor and a steward, these verses provide a helpful perspective for me. We each must count the cost before we begin anything. When Jesus challenges us to bear our cross and come after him, we understand discipleship will be hard—full of sacrifice and loss. Before beginning an endeavor, we need to make sure to first sit down and evaluate whether we have enough resources (time, money, and energy) to finish the task, similar to building a tower. This makes us diligent, responsible stewards. However, we not only need to evaluate whether we have sufficient resources, but also whether we are willing to dedicate them to the particular task. These verses have always challenged me in a mental and theoretical way, but over the last four years, the cost of discipleship that Jesus mentions became very real and tangible.
Perhaps you did count the cost before committing to ministry leadership, but now the cost is larger than you estimated or more demanding that you can bear. Perhaps the cost is now more than your spouse is willing to bear. What happens when you get into a situation for which you did not fully realize the cost before you began? What do you do then? What happens when the cost of serving in a church as a pastor becomes too great? Where is the line that once it is crossed means that it is time to quit?
Before Jesus saved me, my life focused on acquisitions attained through hard work in my career. I had many things that I believed I needed in order to be happy (ranch, private aviation, money in bank account, etc.). Each of these was acquired, yet the reality that they would not give me happiness would eventually set in. Then I would shift my focus to another acquisition. During this phase, I put these “other things” before my marriage, my family, and of course, as a non-believer, before Jesus. In 2005, Jesus broke through, gave me a new heart, and gave me new desires. He became my pursuit and set me free from my idolatry.
After Jesus saved me, I began to pray extensively that he would change my priorities. He was faithful, and these are the godly priorities he gave me:
- God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
- Marci (marriage)
Until the summer of 2014, I had generally been able to keep these priorities in check. There have, however, been times when my priorities have gotten a little skewed, but Marci is quick to recognize it and help me make necessary adjustments.
In any job you do, whether secular or ministry, you must set priorities. These priorities will help you determine when to quit and when your limit has been reached. Everyone will have his or her own priorities and individual limit. Sometimes your job (working in a church) and ministry (pastoring the body) come into direct conflict with your marriage and kids. When this occurs, it is because your priorities are competing for your finite, limited resources of time, money, and energy. To do one, you have to sacrifice the other.
After my conversion, the Holy Spirit led me to repent to Marci for the sins I had committed against her and our family due to my idolatry. We sought the grace and mercy found only in Jesus and worked hard to reconcile and submit our marriage to Christ’s headship. Up until the fall of 2011, neither Marci nor I had shared a full, detailed account of my pre-salvation story with another person. In order to become an elder of Mars Hill Church, I submitted to an extensive process to ensure that I met the elder qualifications given by Paul in 1 Timothy 3 and 1 Peter 5. The campus lead pastor and the other longtime Mars Hill pastors who were overseeing my eldership assessment assured me that the process would have strict confidentiality.
As part of this process, Marci and I had an interview with the pastor over pastoral care at our local campus. We honestly and openly discussed my past sins before coming to Christ in 2005. The pastor asked if we had communicated this information to anyone. I told him that I wanted to wait until my daughters (who were 7 and 12 at the time) were older, because I wanted to tell them first. My desire for confidentiality was not due to ungodly secrecy but rather appropriate privacy.
My desire for confidentiality was not due to ungodly secrecy but rather appropriate privacy.
I submitted to the pastors of my local church and their decision on my eldership, whatever that might be. A few weeks later, I was presented to the church body for comment. Two weeks later, I was prayed over by these same men in front of the church and installed as an elder. In the eldership process, you count the cost of what sacrifices you believe will be made, but ultimately you have never done it. So you have to trust the leaders whom God has put in place to steward what is best for you, your family, and your church.
Assessing When to Quit
Fast forward to the summer of 2014. As a church, Mars Hill had endured six months of intense scrutiny in the media. I had endured just as many months of media accusations and former church elders calling for my resignation. Twenty-one former Mars Hill elders had filed formal charges against my fellow executive elder. People outside of Mars Hill informed me that former Mars Hill elders were working to file formal charges against me also. I was told that a former lead pastor was approached to lead a group of people who hoped to force my resignation so that I “could not help Pastor Mark Driscoll.” That former lead pastor declined to participate.
A few days later, an anonymous mass text was sent out to current elders stating that I was not qualified to be an elder, among many other things. At the end of August 2014, I received a text from an anonymous phone number stating that one current elder and many former elders were discussing my pre-salvation sins. It also said that I was not qualified to be an elder and I needed to resign or this sensitive, private information would be shared to the public. Additionally, the week I was to announce my resignation to the church, an elder stated that he had my elder file in his possession, as he was asking for more severance.
This was indeed my limit and the Holy Spirit led me to the decision that it was time to quit; my line had been crossed. After serving at Mars Hill for more than three years, I was not going to allow my family to be subject to those types of tactics. There has been much talk about the abusive and coercive culture of Mars Hill. What many people do not realize is that some of the very people who were calling for an end to this type of abuse were using abusive tactics against me to achieve their goal.
What many people do not realize is that some of the very people who were calling for an end to this type of abuse were using abusive tactics against me to achieve their goal.
Some will accuse me of having unresolved issues, carrying shame over my past, or not “walking in the light.” That is completely untrue. Scripture says that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). When Jesus saved me, his blood wiped away ever sin from my past, present, and future. He made me a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). I deeply believe those powerful Scriptural truths, but I also strongly believe that Jesus does not require that I share my story with everyone I meet—again, not in ungodly secrecy, but rather appropriate privacy. I share my story only with those who have earned the right to know it and can steward it well. Through prayer, the Holy Spirit leads me as he desires and reveals who gets to hear my story, for his glory. At Mars Hill, I shared my detailed experiences, mistakes, and sins with only a few pastors, my fellow executive elders, and those overseeing my eldership process in 2011. Some of those had earned the right to hear it. I told others out of necessity and trusted them to steward it well, and unfortunately they did not.
When I received that anonymous text, my priorities of Jesus, marriage, family, ministry, and job came into great conflict. As I sought advice from some elders within Mars Hill, many supported my resignation. Others opined that my testimony “would come out anyway,” and that I needed to stay at the church during that tumultuous time. Due to their desperation, those elders were asking me to put ministry and job before my marriage and family. To Jesus’ glory, I wasn’t willing to do that.
Eight months have passed since I resigned from Mars Hill. Although the transition time has not been easy, my family and I now enjoy a life with our priorities intact and in order. I recently sat down with my two daughters and discussed my past with them. One daughter said, “Dad, I am glad you told us because I don’t want anyone to threaten our family like that again.”
If your church has a strong eldership process (and I hope it does), can you do me a favor today? Look at how information is shared and with whom it is shared. Secondly, if you have a biblical counseling team that provides “safe” counseling to your church, what is the process around these records and who has access to this confidential information? Our church of Jesus Christ needs to be the safest place to share our stories with trustworthy and loving pastors.
Our church of Jesus Christ needs to be the safest place to share our stories with trustworthy and loving pastors.
Counting the Cost
Every leader and pastor needs to have a set of priorities. You need to know where the line is so that when it’s crossed you will pull the ripcord and quit, unaffected by emotion, money, or fear. For me, my family was not going to be hurt in a very public way for the sake of a job and a ministry. If you haven’t already, pray that God will reveal what your limit is, where your line is.
If I would have known how messed up Mars Hill was in 2011, I would never have taken the executive pastor job. My wife’s friend often tells her that God doesn’t reveal everything to us because then we wouldn’t do what he wants us to. Sometimes when we count the cost, by the grace of God, we underestimate.
I’m thankful that I didn’t have the full picture in April 2011. I don’t regret the decision to serve Mars Hill Church. In spite of how difficult my time at Mars Hill was, there were also times of great joy. The gospel was preached unapologetically, many people were saved, and Marci and I met some amazing siblings in Christ who will be friends for eternity. During my service, I made mistakes and I am sorry for those. I also directly sinned against brothers and sisters and I have repented and sought (and continue to seek) reconciliation and forgiveness from them on a one-on-one basis (Matthew 18:15). Most importantly, Jesus has used all of it to sanctify me and make me more like him.
In this [I] rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, [I] have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of [my] faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7)!