For some time now we have been told that one-half of all seminary graduates leave the ministry within five years after graduating. Whenever I mention this in a seminar people are shocked. I was as well the first time I heard this figure. How could someone believe he or she is called to the ministry, sacrifice the time and money into pursuing a seminary education, and then walk away from it that quickly?
Some probably realize they missed God's call and didn't really belong in the ministry. It happens. Others might discover they do not possess the gifts needed for pastoral ministry and pursue something else more in line with their giftedness. Sometimes the minister's spouse doesn't want to be married to a minister. Ministry can be tough, and some ministers grow weary of the conflict and politics that can be associated with ministry. Circumstances change, and the minister must leave the ministry to address those issues.
These, and many more reasons, can be behind the minister's decision to leave the ministry. I'm not here to judge those who do so. I want to celebrate the 50 percent who do not abandon the ministry.
Spending fourteen years as a judicatory minister gave me the opportunity to meet many wonderful ministry leaders. As I've traveled the nation leading seminars for church leaders I've been able to meet many more. Despite the challenges these men and women face they are dedicated to the call of God on their lives. Some of them have been in the ministry far longer than I have, and I admire their faithfulness to their calling and their continued passion for ministry.
I've often wondered why they have lasted when others have left the ministry. My only answer is that they cannot forget God's call on their lives. I know that's true in my life.
People sometimes ask how I remained at one church as a bivocational pastor for twenty years. The only answer I can give is that I knew that God had called me into the ministry, and that He had called me to that place. I had many opportunities to leave for other ministries, and more than once I wanted to leave! But, I could never escape the sense of call I felt towards that church. It wasn't until I knew God was calling me to another ministry opportunity that I became willing to leave my church.
Ministry can be very challenging. It's during those difficult days in ministry that we need to go back and re-examine God's call on our lives. Sometimes that may be the only thing that will keep us going, but it's enough. When we are dedicated to that call, wherever it may lead, we will leave a legacy of ministry that has impacted those we touched. One day, when we stand before the One who called us we will hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant...." What more could any of us ask for?