Transformed by a Toxic Culture

February 1, 2022
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Jeremiah 1:1-19

By Elaine May, CRCNA Women’s Leadership Developer

Leaving Ministry Soon?

Over the past year, about 38% of pastors have considered leaving ministry. The percentage increases to 46% for pastors under the age of 45 (reported by the Barna Group). As these figures show, pastoral ministry positions are not immune to the ‘great resignation.’ Inc.com explored the reasons for employees exiting their positions during the pandemic and reported that the greatest predictor of resignations was a toxic culture. The article describes a toxic culture as one which fails to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion; disrespects workers; and tolerates unethical behavior. Is the same true of pastors leaving their churches?

It wouldn’t be the first time a toxic culture has tempted a pastor to resign.

Toxic Cultures

The prophet Jeremiah wanted to quit. He had had enough of the people who were living incongruent to their identity as the people of God. Pages and pages of Scripture are filled with lament as he complains to God. And yet, Jeremiah’s experience was consistent with the call God placed on his life. His ministry assignment was to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow (Jeremiah 1:10).

Jeremiah didn’t have confidence in himself. He was young and lacked experience. God regularly encouraged Jeremiah, promising to make him a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land (Jeremiah 1:18). It’s no wonder God exhorted Jeremiah not to be terrified, because the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land were going to fight against him.

Jeremiah was called to change a toxic culture. Israel had forgotten they were called to be a distinct and holy people who pointed the nations to God. Israel’s unfaithfulness was thoroughly embedded throughout their life, in hypocritical worship, breaking of the Sabbath, corrupt cultic practices, excessive wealth in the midst of debilitating poverty, injustice and oppression of the poor, and mistreatment of the weak.

Rooted in God

Jeremiah’s call to transform a toxic culture would require him to be firmly rooted in an intimate relationship with God and his mission fueled by the gap between the way the people of God were living and the way God intended them to live. Eugene Peterson wrote that the work of the prophet is to call people to live well, to live rightly – to be human. But it is more than a call to say something, it is a call to live out the message. The prophet must be what he or she says.  The person as well as the message of the prophet challenges us to live up to our creation, to live into our salvation – to become all that we are designed to be. Jeremiah did not embody the message when God initially called him.  God transformed him through the calling and sending process, as Jeremiah engaged with God’s mission.

At the end of the book of Jeremiah, we see a man who has been changed by the task he was given.  Jeremiah is

“in Egypt, the place he doesn’t want to be, with people who treat him badly, [and yet] he continues determinedly faithful, magnificently courageous, heartlessly rejected – a towering life terrifically lived” (Peterson, Run with the Horses).

A Place of Change

Are you among the almost 50% who have considered leaving their ministry position? Are you discouraged by the resistance you’re receiving from the people you are called to lead? Jeremiah was in the same situation when God said to him,

“If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?” (Jeremiah 12:5).

God believed Jeremiah was capable of more. He was strengthening and encouraging Jeremiah, expanding his influence while assuring Jeremiah of his presence. God also promised the ministry assignment wouldn’t overpower him, but it would refine and transform him. How is God changing you?