Reflections on Leaving my Job as a Pastor

It has been exactly one year since a very emotional road trip. I left my position as a pastor in the Philadelphia area to become a professor in the Phoenix area. But more importantly, it felt like I had left my identity as a pastor and was wandering across the country with little idea of who I was.

But over the past year, I have learned that for me, I simply had to come to terms with the reality that the church was no longer the place for me to do ministry. Don’t get me wrong. I still very much participate in the Church. And don’t get me wrong again, I still very much participate in local expressions of the Church. But what I no longer participate in are systems and structures that assume the best learning happens in lectures (sermons), that leadership happens in titles, or that community can be programmed.

There are literally millions of people that probably do not identify with my story. They still do learn through lecture, they still do respect the authority that comes with titles, and they do gain meaningful relationships from programmed activity.

That’s just not me anymore. And that doesn’t make me mad. It doesn’t make me bitter. And, it certainly doesn’t make me right. But, if I am honest, it does often make me sad, as I grieve the loss of structures that no longer make meaning for me, no matter how hard I try.

But I have found more outlets for living out a Christian ethic than ever before, in my classroom, in my business, and in my home.
As a professor, I have the chance to model a Kingdom ethic by subverting my own power and empowering the voices of each of my students, no matter how marginalized. We all have something to bring to the table. As a business partner, we have created leadership structures that value the talents and humanity of each person, providing space for open and honest encouragement, and more often than not, healthy critique. And in my home we subtly live out our views of the Kingdom in the food we eat, the values we instill, & the ever-growing passion for radical hospitality. And in each of those spaces I am motivated by my desired to live like Jesus, being “wise as serpents but innocent as doves,” allowing the Good News not just to be the message but the medium as well.

And in every one of those spaces, I find the church. The irony of this story is that a lot of people who leave institutional churches become “lone ranger Christians,” believing they don’t need others in their life to have a meaningful faith. It’s just “me and Jesus.” But my story is the opposite. I have never felt more alone than I did as a pastor. And never have I had such shallow relationships than I did in the modern institution of the church.

For me, I didn’t leave the church to get away from people, I left it so I could truly find them.

I am grateful for the past year and I look forward to many more.

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4 responses to “Reflections on Leaving my Job as a Pastor

  1. I am grateful for this post! In some respects I think the traditional church model is all about control. But it’s also a great symbol for a community; it’s a safe place. But perhaps that’s only a positive because Christians aren’t out in the community actively displaying the gospel.

    My wife and I have had talks about doing church as a small group on Sundays, but she and the other wives can’t get over the idea that we are “supposed” to go to a traditional church on Sunday. It’s like it short-circuits their minds, and to some degree, I understand. It’s weird to change such an established habit. It’s tied in (perhaps unfortunately) to our identity. “I’m a Christian because I believe the gospel, but also because I go to church and take part in church activities.”

    I recently finished Ken Bailey’s “Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes” and his view is that 1 Corinthians displays the 1st Century church gathering as a service where everyone is supposed to participate. Some teach, some sing, etc, etc. And that’s so backwards to what traditional church is.

    The traditional church model has few people leading and is set up like an entertainment venue. When you really think about it, is it much different than a movie theater, circus and concert all rolled into one? We can’t help our natural, human responses that end up putting the worship leader, pastor and others on a higher pedestal. And if it happens to us, what about our kids? They must idolize their youth pastor, which is scary when you hear of so many sketchy youth pastor stories. (Here’s one by us: http://www.dallasnews.com/news/religion/20120804-dallas-minister-puts-assault-of-teen-behind-him-but-others-cant.ece)

    I feel like we (my family at least) would thrive more in a small group gathering with the entire family in the room (no kids off to “kids’ church”). And then torpedo our neighborhood with Jesus’ love. Maybe we’ll get there.

    It’s funny though. I’ve been in on meetings at our church that are deep and rich, but have been in on others that the sole purpose was to decide what candles and chairs from pottery barn would look best on stage. It’s hard for me to join in worship while looking at chairs I know cost $200 each. It’s really not so much the money as it is everything behind the decision. And why not just have a church member who is a woodworker use his gift to serve the church and make some stage chairs? Maybe it’s all my issue.

    Anyway, thoughts and thoughts. Sorry for the stream of consciousness and lack of organization. :>

  2. I’m 55 years old, mom to seven and a granma now too, and I totally understand church feeling irrelevant. I go and enjoy the hymn singing (I hum snatches all week) but the rest of the service, where I am supposed to sit passively and listen to a lesson that, after years in church, I KNOW, leaves me totally bored and not worshipful. I’d rather be out doing something, or ??. And yet our last two teens want to go, so of course I don’t want to discourage them. I feel that the habit of church shouldn’t be discarded unless we can find something to replace it with….and now I’m off to, sigh, church.

  3. There’s just something about clanging cymbals that no longer causes me to want to go to church anymore (and I work at a church). When there’s no mercy, no grace, no true hunger for Christ-likeness, it’s hard to want to participate. Sometimes, I feel like the one way to save the Church is to walk away as you did and find another expression of that community of faith that we all hunger for in hopes that we can somehow change the Church. One day, I hope to follow in your footsteps and I try to figure out the best way to express my faith and the faith of my family to the community.

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