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.