So, it is a new year. Frankly, I am not that hopeful. Because of Omicron, we don’t know when the COVID crisis will be gone. For United Methodists, we have been waiting for General Conference, but we don’t know what will happen to it. If it happens, it will impact our lives quite significantly. If it doesn’t happen, we will continue to live in this limbo for one or two more years. Both don’t look exciting at all. Most importantly, our church community has lost many good and faithful members. We don’t know if we will get our members back. It doesn’t look promising. As we have been going through the perfect storm, it affects our souls, too.
Barna Group polled pastors twice in 2021. In January, 29% of pastors said they seriously thought about leaving the ministry last year. In October, that number jumped to 38%. Great Resignation is not happening to truck drivers or restaurant workers but pastors. The more shocking thing is that 51 percent of mainline Protestant pastors have considered quitting, while 34 percent of non-mainline Protestant pastors have considered leaving. Half of 38% are under 45 years old. Half of the leaders are not fully committed to an organization, which means that organizations are not healthy. Faithful church members who hold the church through pandemic feel demoralized when they see their friends not showing up anymore and when they see their spiritual leaders not fired up like they used to.
Our souls are not well, friends. Let us face it and name it. Let us not medicate ourselves with false hope or other petty pleasures.
Then, what do we do as we start a new year?
District Superintendents do monthly bible study together. Our bible study leader shared that she shed tears, reminiscing the past time with loved ones who passed. I envied her tears. She challenged me to do so. You know, Korean men don’t cry in front of others. Luckily, I had a moment of releasing my anxiety, frustration, anger, and fear with tears and cries when I had a coaching session three weeks ago. My coach cried with me. He was not just a coach but a pastor to me. It was so liberating. I felt that my numb soul had gained some sensation. I strongly believe that newness begins with cries and tears as we make a closure to the past. Churches need a dark room where we communally let go of unresolved and anxious emotions. I call it the womb of God. The new life or genuine hope comes only through the darkness, pain, tear, and cries. It doesn’t happen without our efforts. It is the labor of love. Spiritual leaders are midwives to help parishioners give birth to a new life. At such a time as this, we need a person with deep spirituality who can help us through our labor.
Secondly, be decisive and commit to the decision. It is easy to equivocate between staying and quitting the ministry. Indecisiveness does not bring good to our souls or the church we lead. It doesn’t bring any breakthrough. It only contributes to slow death. Once we make a decision, we need to commit to it. Only commitment with discipline can cause a crack to the wall of impossibility. In 1 King 18, Elijah boldly claimed that God would give them rain, saying he hears rain. However, he didn’t have any tangible evidence. He just made his commitment to the promise of God. Then, Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground, and put his face between his knees. In other words, he committed and prayed out of desperation. Next, he sent his servant to the sea to check if there was any sign of a cloud. There was nothing until they do the same thing seven times. Finally, the servant reported that a cloud as small as a person’s hand was rising from the sea. Then, Elijah fully activated the mission with the news of a small cloud. Breakthrough is only available for leaders who are decisive and committed to the mission with discipline, though they might not have any resources or evidence at the time. As an exceptional leader like Elijah, blessed the nation with his leadership, pastors with decisiveness and commitment can bless the church even though the pandemic time.
Friends, as we start a new year, let us listen to the voice of Ezekiel…
“‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood, I said to you, “Live!” (Ezekiel 16:6)
May the Lord renew and strengthen you in this journey of 2022.