When I want to quit


It was 3 years ago this week that I resigned from my youth ministry position that I held for 18 years (the one before this was 11 years). I know what it’s like to want to quit. I wanted to quit 100′s of times during that 18 years (half of those 100′s came directly following a youth group activity).

Because I speak to a lot of ministry leaders, I feel like there’s more defeat and discouragement “out there” (in ministry-land) than I’ve heard in many years. Ministry is always difficult, plus this is a difficult economy which adds fuel to everyone’s feelings, emotions, actions, non-actions, etc…

My dear friend and ministry compadre Matt McGill wrote a blog this week about What to do on days when you feel like quitting. He wrote:

Don’t. At least not until you’re REALLY sure of your decision.

Show up. You can’t give up just because you feel like quitting. Going through the motions could restore some of the passion that you’ve lost.

Change it up. You need to show up, but that doesn’t mean you have to go through ALL the motions.

Laugh. Do what ever it takes to find a little fun. You may be on the titanic and its sinking fast, but better to eek out some joy rather than soak in the despair of it all.

Talk about it. Get with a friend–probably not anyone above you in the “food chain” at your church. You may be friends with your boss, but some issues need to be worked out with others.

Seek God. I believe God wants to teach us something every day…even on days when we want to quit. God may be moving in new ways in your life, and feeling like it’s time to quit may be a part of this. Discover the root causes of your thoughts and feelings. Sure, everything is piling up and it feels overwhelming, but what’s behind the superficial issues?

Determine if and where change is needed. When your life is a garbage pit, there are only two things that can change: your situation or your attitude. Most of the time, we need to change our hearts…this is the process where we become more like Jesus.

I love Matt’s advice! I’d add a few additional thoughts:

1. Get to the bottom of the discouragement: Work hard to discover the truth behind the hurt. You may find very quickly that it’s not about “them”… rather, it’s you. Your pride. Your fear. Your deep insecurities. And, that’s okay! Awareness leads to healing. I just hate to see people make big decisions and quit without facing the truth.

2. Take some time away: Don’t curl up and watch Oprah re-runs and eat yourself into a sugar-coma. Instead, get away for a couple days. Steer clear of email that could trigger you. Stay off your phone. Grab a journal, a book or two, a Bible…get away. Think, rest your weary heart and busy pace, go quiet, introspective… basically, get away from the situation for a short period of time to get perspective.

3. Make a list of VRT’s: These are “Very Refreshing Things”. They may be people, places, hobbies, activities…whatever refreshes you. Make that list. Keep writing. Try to get to 30 ideas. Some will take more time than others, but see if you can’t infuse one idea a day into your ministry schedule.

Neither Matt nor I have a secret bullet for “what do do when you want to quit” but both of us can relate. So, know that you’re not alone. Know that not everyone understands ministry (especially if you’re in youth ministry). Who knows, maybe it is time to quit… but, it’s probably not. Hang in there.

Question: what else would you add to the list? Share it here.


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  • joshpease

    I was thinking about this recently (because I wanted to quit) & realized a big part of the reason was I was putting my hope in the wrong place: I was trusting people to make good decisions, to treat me fairly, to make things outside my control work, & it quickly led to frustration & hopelessness in my job. Fortunately God smacked me over the head w/ one question: “who am I putting my hope in?” It didn’t make everything better, but it definitely made my perspective bigger.

    • dougfields

      That’s good insight Josh. It’s so easy to put the bigger trust in people. I’m glad you didn’t quit! I still hear great things about your ministry from all kinds of people–you’re doing a great job!

  • Linda T

    This one is only for the girls – check the calendar!!  Seriously, one week a month we ALL feel like quitting and everyone around us is an idiot…  If God’s really calling you out, He’ll still be calling in about 10 days when your perspective has been recalibrated.  Plus it gives you time to do all the great stuff Doug and Matt recommended.  Thanks, Pastor Doug for such great posts… I love learning from you and with you!

    • dougfields

      Linda: since it’s only for girls…I won’t comment :)
      (good to see your name)

  • Cailey Dumler

    Thank you so much, Doug!  I am praying I can continue to make better decisions with my time, schedule, and continue to place my family as a priority.  It has changed my life, instilling certain habits and margins into my daily routine. Guess what? Funny how I did not think there was time for margin, play, fun, quiet rest…when I began implementing this…I find I am far more productive while in the office! (I am sure that shocks you beyond belief…LOL!)
    So appreciate your leadership and authenticity. Keep ministering as you are…God is using you in amazing ways!

    Cailey

    • dougfields

      not shocked at all… just shocked you’re just now beginning to figure this out (smile). It was great to have you and your husband at the FAM conference.

  • http://thebeardedidealist.com/ Stephen Haggerty

    Good stuff, Doug. I love the underlying message to think on it, pray on it, and talk it out- rather than letting emotions get the best of you. I think some of these moments in my own experience have usually been triggered by a string of negative comments, or people’s resistance to change. My reaction to this and my desire to run all point back to my own insecurities.  I appreciate your and Matt’s approach.

    • dougfields

      life sure changes (for the better) when we’re able to recognize our own insecurities.

  • Chris Dortch

    I like your statement, “Get to the bottom of the discouragement”. My youth pastor (Doug King) always said, “Don’t leave if the students are the source of your discouragement. They will graduate”. He stayed at the same church for over 25 years as youth pastor!

    • dougfields

      That’s a great line Chris! They graduate…but, unfortunately some of them return and want to be on your volunteer team. :)

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  • Sparkhil

    “Let Go and Let God”

  • Melkins22

    yeah so many times people get mad and quit, and they go somewhere else and the process starts over.  Which then you have to ask yourself what is the common denominator is?  Them or you?

    • dougfields

      no matter who it is to blame, a good leader will always hold up the mirror and try to figure out what’s broken within.

  • http://myendofthedeal.com/ brianseidel

    I just passed my ten year mark at my church and I would be lying if I said I have never thought about quitting.  Truthfully not just my church, but also tempted to quit writing and pursuing things outside my church walls.  I have found that when I want to quit is when I have put my focus on myself and what I can accomplish instead of on God and what He wants to accomplish through me.  When it is all on my shoulders I get frustrated quickly, when it is on God and I just fulfill the role he has entrusted to me my perspective changes quickly.

    • dougfields

      good point Brian! when we make ministry about “us”… it’s a lot easier to get discouraged.

  • Mshellhamer

    Lately, I’ve realized that when I remember what I was like at 16, 18, or 20 yrs old then I really have no justification for being disappointed in my students or young volunteers. In fact, when I put it in perspective, I should be rejoicing over the progress of my young friends!

    • dougfields

      funny…and, good perspective!

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  • Alltheworldismad

    Hey Doug.  Love your stuff and have been following you for years.  When should someone quit?  I have been hurt by the deacons and senior staff in my church repeatedly for a few years which has lead to a fearful and discouraged spirit.  My wife now resents the church.  We keep telling each other when the other is down that we need to forgive, learn, and grow.  I know that no where is perfect but when is enough enough?

    • dougfields

      That’s a great question! I wish I had an easy answer to give you, but I think it’s unique to everyone. I don’t think most people are called to work in the church for their entire life, but I also believe that we ought to wait to see if God releases us from that church. If a work environment is beginning to affect your relationship with God in your primary relationships with spouse and children, it might be time to prayerfully consider going somewhere else. I would also challenge you to talk to a trusted friend and see if the Holy Spirit in that friend might have something more clearly to communicate to you than what I can do over a distant blog. Blessings to you in your journey and discerning of God’s will.

  • Lee

    Phew! I’m almost to my two year mark as a youth pastor. They definitely did not prepare me for everything I have faced in college. I’m in a small, traditional, mostly elderly church. No parents of the youth go to church. All youth (yes, all) our picked up on our van ministry. The church has not gained but maybe 8 new members in the time I have been there. My wife and I both went to a large contemporary church before this church. Volunteers are hard to come by. Me and my wife are the only ones. The youth mostly come from split homes. I also have lesbians in my youth group. I over see the children’s church, children’s ministry, student ministry, maintain church website, maintain youth budget, teach Sunday school, drive van, vbs director, and help the special needs. I say this nit to brag but to ask for input, suggestions, and comments. The thought of quitting and trying to find another church has definitely popped up many a time.

    • dougfields

      Wow! I can see why you occasionally consider quitting. Sounds like a rough situation. My biggest suggestion is to get a mentor who you can meet with (and complain to, and ask questions, etc…) who is neutral and willing to help you. Hang in there!

    • Demeco Johnson

      wow i which i can come over and help you out. I have the love of dealing with youths. It’s what i love to do. I understand your quitting but hang in there and just find someone to take some load off from you.

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