Two weeks prior to my college graduation I had my first-job lined up as a youth pastor at a church in Central Louisiana. I was excited and ready to change the world.
In mentioning this to a co-worker, he scooted his chair near mine: "Matt, I'm telling you. You will always want to way to quit ministry."
The backstory to this comment was unfortunate. My co-worker previously held a ministry position and after years quit. This was the first time he shared his transparent story with me, but full of zeal, I brushed off his comments. I knew there was no way I would ever have those feelings.
Five short months later I contemplated everything. I was barely surviving financially, the youth group was stagnant, and my peers I graduated with were loving life in their big jobs in their big cities. I wanted to quit.
Maybe my co-worker was right?
Next month will mark five years of ministry for my wife and I. We don't have it all figured out as people still give us crazy eyes when we say we are both 26-years-old -- but in five years, we've had some beyond unique experiences.
You're going to read about my inner battles. Kayla had those too. She could equally write her own lessons as we both traveled a long journey in a short time. But, the one constant of Kayla was her rock solid relationship with Jesus. She never wanted to quit serving Him or His church. She was our strength, so while I lashed out and went on a spiritual hiatus, she was the constant voice and person on the other side.
I'm going to take you through my perspective and battles of each year. Hindsight is so valuable. I'd love to go back to May 2012, shake myself, and move my mindset to present day. It's my hope that this blog offers a perspective for a young leader (and someone leading young leaders) of my struggles and conclusions.
It's my hope you can identify one of these "wanting to quit" moments and obtain a self-aware nature to change before it's too late. Also, be aware that I've not arrived (nor will I ever). I'll look back to 2017 in five years and laugh again, but perspective is key for others to share in seasons of life.
So, let's jump in!
Year 1 in Ministry: I Knew Everything & Judged Everyone
I believed what I believed and you weren't going to change my mind. I had no room for flexibility. I took grey areas, or personal freedoms, and legislated them as Biblical truth. I took styles and personal preferences from my fellowship and legislated them as 100 percent truth.
My life was a closed book without an ounce of openness. You may laugh now, but I was the guy in the oversized suit who enjoyed the 3-5 hour services -- I mean, our youth services were three hours. I was also, unfortunately, the guy who judged everyone who wasn't doing it the way (or style) I preferred.
I assumed the majority of things, and because of that I was openly critical of larger churches that I categorized as seeker friendly. I said some dangerous statements about leaders I never met -- statements I had to repent for. I was a young, college-educated, Jesus-believing church leader who wasn't open to change.
During this year, I prayed and read my Bible everyday. I had a great spiritual checklist to make it look good on the outside. But, I was slowly dying on the inside.
Year 2 in Ministry: I Hated Going to Church
The legalism faze was the first step into my unhealthy spiritual life. The legalism slowly turned to hate. I didn't just disagree, but now I didn't like people for it. While this started on the outside as I continued criticizing other churches and leaders, it slowly crept to those closest around me.
I can't explain a big moment, but overtime I started disliking people. I began to take everything personal. If a teenager didn't come to youth group, I took it as a personal attack. I felt rejected. As I felt rejected, those feelings garnered into hate.
As my dislike for others increased, I started dreading church.
This is when the strongest urges of quitting began. No conference or church leader ever prepares you for when you can't stand attending your own church, right?! Every Sunday I would wake up in an awful mood, ready to get home, and watch football. With this attitude, I was critical of everything about the church because I just didn't want to be there.
My relationship with Jesus for the entire year was near absent. I stopped reading and praying almost entirely. That "checklist" from year one drew dry because I never really grew closer to Jesus. I was just checking a list of spiritual things to make me appear fine.
Can I quit yet?
Year 3 in Ministry: I Found My Identity
As I journeyed on my spiritual desolation, for the first-time in two years I communicated how I was feeling. This leader gave me some life-changing advice. I immediately started to surround myself with other high-level leaders (as I called them). These leaders were in ministry for 20+ years and were well respected.
I aggressively pursued these relationships. I knew a leader that never met me wasn't going to call my cell phone and ask me out for coffee out of the blue. So, I picked up my phone and awkwardly asked these busy, high-level leaders if they would get coffee with us.
I quickly found these leaders would make time for me (or really anyone who would simply ask). These leaders I had butterflies talking on the phone with cared about me? Through that year, these leaders called out destiny and purpose in my life. They refueled my passion.
I took their words to heart and was ready to give my church everything I had again. That year the pastoral team at our church really zoned in on trying to transition the church after a time of decline.
We tried, we pushed, we prayed, we strategized, and ultimately we still failed. But, for the first-time I had my identity. I dressed in my style, I spoke casually and I started to be creative with ideas and strategy. In other words, I was beginning to understand the "why" behind my life.
I give credit to my pastor at the time. During this stage of my life, he welcomed it. He saw a change in me as a person and leader. He gave me the authority to spread my wings and fly (cheesy, I know).
Despite my new found identity, my love for Jesus was almost a faded memory. I was getting healthy as an individual, but I was still sinking spiritually.
Year 4 in Ministry: I Got it Right Spiritually
We just moved to a new city to volunteer at our current church. I was still running off the year three highs of new-found identity and pushing through change. Our new church averaged around 300 on Sunday -- it was an exciting transition for us. Every Sunday you could feel the momentum expand.
Our new pastor was instrumental in being a positive voice during my third year of ministry. At the time, the Holy Spirit transitioned us to a new adventure, I don't think our pastor knew he was getting some self-inflicted damage goods. His church was growing fast, and I think he would have welcomed anybody willing to move and work for free. (I kid ... I partially kid ... don't kill or fire me Pastor Den.)
While Kayla and I were excited, the reality quickly set in that I'd have to get a full-time job outside the church. Kayla worked at our church part-time along with her five other part-time jobs (no lie). I was hired at AT&T, and I knew immediately what God was doing to my initial apprehension.
It was the year for me to get right spiritually.
This meant I would begin to love people again and establish a consistent devotional life. I worked in customer service, so I was around people for 10+ hours a day. While my workload at the church was light, I was able to "sit" in church for a year and gain a fresh breathe of spiritual air.
I was more zoned into my calling than ever before. Who knew stepping away for a short time would get me to this place?
Year 5 in Ministry: I Received a Do Over
It was the end of May 2016, almost four years to the day of my first week at my previous church, when I received my do-over. I was back to working full-time in ministry with a radical new perspective.
I was spiritually healthy for the first time since my college days. I had a healthy balance and perspective. I was comfortable in my identity, and most importantly -- I began liking people again.
It's these moments no one ever tells you about. It's the moments when you want to give up. The moment when you don't feel like being an adult today.
As a church leader, I've hid my struggles behind the name of Jesus from a stage. I quit ministry a lot of times in my head. I looked at hundreds of other jobs in year one, two, three, and even in year four. But, don't forget -- our challenge is to remember that ministry is a calling. It's a calling extended from our Father to us -- a humbling opportunity for us to have a part of His Church.
As much as I wanted to quit, I could not escape October 2, 2011. It was an ordinary Sunday service when during worship God planted a supernatural vision in my Spirit. He, in the most extraordinary moment He's ever communicated with me, called me into ministry.
I just couldn't quit.
As I reflect on the past five years, it's been incredible. I think people see the small "success" (if you call church and ministry growth success) of our church and they love saying, 'Matt and Kayla are great young leaders.' They see the vocational calling of Kayla and myself that's a little different than most, so naturally it's intriguing to them.
But, they don't see the hundred times we were about to quit. If it's wasn't for a couple of leaders, we would be working outside God's calling and destiny for our life.
So, young leader, get ready for your experiences. A wise man once told me to take my perspective of ministry and throw it out the window. A wise man told me that you're always going to want to quit.
I laughed at him.
He was right. I wanted to quit a lot.
On the cusp of your desire to quit -- remember the why. Remember the moment He called you... when he surely could have called someone else.