Last August, I was called into a meeting with my associate pastor to discuss the direction of my role within the church staff. I had been leading the music ministry of that church for six years, but the last two had been especially hard. Leading worship through a pandemic came with a myriad of challenges I’d never faced before. We had to seamlessly balance safety and ministry, handle our own tragedies and fears and deal with a congregation full of scared, judgmental people.
I had begun expressing a dangerous level of burnout and dissatisfaction in staff meetings. Meanwhile, the church was experiencing a transition, and my role was about to drastically change, requiring even more time, energy and training in new skill sets.
I watched my pastor’s heart break as he suggested it would be mutually beneficial if I took my leave. I packed up my office the next day and left the church where I had been ordained, married and supported in my calling, walking toward an unknown future.
My experience is not unfamiliar to those in the ministry world. A Barna survey found that as of March 2022, 42% of ministers have considered quitting full-time ministry — up 13% from January 2021. Of these, 56% state “the immense stress of the job” as their reason for considering leaving ministry. And 43% cite isolation and loneliness as their top factors, while 38% blame the nation’s current political divisions. Even those who haven’t considered quitting still note stress and political divisions among their most significant challenges. Another source states that pandemic challenges, lack of connection, budget issues and extreme politics are causing pastors to rethink their ministry careers.
“Worship leaders or music ministers, like me, are increasingly likely to burn out and consider leaving the ministry altogether.”
Worship leaders or music ministers, like me, are increasingly likely to burn out and consider leaving the ministry altogether. An article in Christianity Today asserts the pandemic exacerbated many of the regular challenges worship leaders faced while on stage, making them targets for opinionated criticism.
Many of us had to deal with the same level of scrutiny over song choice and technical prowess that we’re used to facing but with less support and limited ability to conduct rehearsals or minister to volunteers. We also gained new challenges, from the complications of live-streaming services to walking people through the isolation of lockdowns. I’ll admit it was harder to brush off critiques of my service choices after 18 months of ministering through illness, isolation, loss and my own anxieties.
So, what if ministers like me need to leave the current role in which they serve but don’t want to leave the ministry entirely? Maybe their church is not a good fit for them, or the circumstances of life have made it temporarily difficult to give as much to their ministries as they would prefer. That does not mean those ministers must give up on their calling or walk away from ministry forever.
The way you use the time after leaving a specific ministry role can potentially heal burnout, bring guidance from the Lord and salvage the rest of your ministry career. For those of you considering leaving your ministry position, I’d like to encourage you with some takeaways from my ministry hiatus.
“This doesn’t have to be the end of your calling in ministry.”
First, recognize this doesn’t have to be the end of your calling in ministry. One recurring thought I had after I left my former church was that the ministry I had fought for, nurtured, studied for, prayed over and wept for was over. I thought God had made a mistake in calling me, that I had nothing else to offer. This line of thinking is patently false.
If your ministry career looks different than you expected, or you have gaps in your resume, that doesn’t mean God does not still have work for you to do. Keep in mind as well that God uses lay leaders to accomplish incredible things in the church all the time. Ministry in the church does not have to be paid and come with a title to be valuable to God’s kingdom. Be open to where the Lord directs you next.
Second, don’t assume you need to jump into the next ministry position immediately. If you feel the Lord is leading you to get right back on the horse and polish up that resume tomorrow, then go for it. But if you’re like me, you may need a break. Ministry can be a grind — every Sunday leading to the next one without much time for vacations or mental health days.
Take a temporary job outside of ministry to get some new perspective and meet new people. Reconnect with old hobbies and interests. Enjoy having your Sunday afternoons back to read, nap or spend time with family.
I’ve used my time away to reconnect with my love for singing. This past Christmas, instead of designing and directing a church Christmas program, I was able to join a community choir and perform Handel’s Messiah with 100 other people. Sometimes God gives us time to take a deep breath and remember why we do what we do.
Third, invest time and receive fellowship from loved ones outside your old church. Ministers can become insulated in their church’s fellowship — after all, being readily available to your church family doesn’t always leave time for outside relationships. But if you’re in-between ministry roles and dealing with the loss of your congregation, you’re going to need other people by your side.
“Make sure you have at least one trusted friend outside the church who can provide a listening ear.”
Make sure you have at least one trusted friend outside the church who can provide a listening ear, godly guidance or companionship. Find those who will help you come back to yourself and be a sounding board as you make decisions for the future.
Fourth, find a neutral place to worship freely. It is extremely difficult for someone leaving a ministry role to continue worshiping in the church they used to serve. Leaving the church altogether often is a valid choice in order to avoid any lingering pain, confusion or disillusionment between you and that congregation. My husband and I found a new church to invest in, and I’ll admit it’s been refreshing just to worship on Sunday mornings without having half my brain focused on the logistics of the service. If you decide to take a break from professional ministry, make sure you find a place to worship and hear the Bible preached.
Fifth, take care of your mind and soul. After years of bivocational ministry, a pandemic, personal losses and dealing with the current state of our world, my burnout was real and my depression was high. I needed to step back and allow myself to stabilize mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
“Do what you have to do to regain health and clarity during this transition.”
If your mental or spiritual health needs work after leaving a ministry role, don’t ignore it. Do what you have to do to regain health and clarity during this transition. Make time to reconnect with God, either on your own or by joining a Bible study.
Many independent ministries and state conventions offer retreats to refresh and inspire pastors. Seek out counseling when needed to work through depression, anxiety or conflicting feelings about where you are in life. Take time to travel, try new things or just enjoy some peace and quiet. Above all, make sure you are healthier before jumping back into the rigors of professional ministry.
God has given us in leadership a mighty calling, but God didn’t promise the road would be smooth or easy. I had to walk through months of heartbreak and healing after leaving my church. However, after finding a new congregation to worship with, taking time to reinvest in my love of music, and reconnecting with the Lord, I feel like the time away has been necessary and blessed.
If we are intentional about the time we spend between ministry roles, we can find ourselves healthier, happier and better equipped for the next chapter in our journeys. When one door closes, we can trust the Lord to be faithful to lead us into new service opportunities and open new windows.
Amy Brundle is an ordained Baptist music minister living in Raleigh, N.C., with her husband, Scott, and a spoiled torbie cat named Brandy. She holds a master of divinity degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and has been studying music for nearly 35 years. Her passions include inspiring volunteers to grow as worship leaders and increasing mental health advocacy within the local church.
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