Image via FlickrSent in by Jim Schoch
What would cause a pastor of over 20 yrs to leave the ministry? My reasons and story are uniquely mine. Maybe you have been in my shoes in one way or another. I started out in the Pentecostal and Charismatic traditions of showing up early and leaving late from every church meeting I ever attended. As a result, as soon as I was asked to do anything, I always said "yes." In our churches, the way into ministry was through apprenticeship, for higher learning was suspect as not being spiritual enough for true ministers.
I was as sincere as anyone I have ever met. My motives were honest, simple, and trusting that I was truly following God. I was led to believe that my calling and gifts would make room for me in the kingdom. It sounded good to me, and I bit into it hook, line, and sinker.
Soon I was the anointed worship leader, Christian school administrator, elder, assistant pastor, building coordinator, TV host, hospital visitation minister, home group leader, secretary, board member, and anything else that was needed on the staff of the largest charismatic church in our four county area. I was "in." I was busy, and I was burning for God.
Sometimes weeks went by without one night at home with my wife and children. I was too anointed to need time at home, right? Does it sound familiar yet? As life unfolded and people kept encouraging me to keep on fire for God, or at least burn out trying, my wife developed asthma. To make a long and painful story shorter, let's just say that it was assumed that because this happened we were losing our anointing or walking in some secret sin.
Weary and burdened with asthma and the disdain of those who once saw us as their leaders, we began to question everything called "ministry." I am leaving out a ton of details for time's sake, but as the 20 years went by, we found ourselves losing any desire for involvement in formal ministry. Instead we loved spending time with those who had nothing to do with church, such as Lou, the bassist and head of the satanic church in Laramie, Wyoming. We loved our time with each other and our kids. One thing led to another, and since October 2000, I have not been in the formal ministry. This has been a disappointment to my father, as well as to those who knew us as church leaders.
These days, I find myself with more respect for myself as a person, with more love for my wife Tammy, with our three grown kids and their sweethearts, and with our grandson. I also love all the good people I have met through the Elks Club, the Chamber of Commerce, my current work in real estate and bus driving, the local bowling and golf leagues, and our downtown community parties.
In short, I have become almost everything I used to preach against. What has become of my theology? I have experienced everything my charismatic background had to offer, and found myself lacking love for myself, my family and others. Since I have left organized religion and de-toxed for seven years, I find love increasing in every way. I think I am reduced to love. If there is a God and that God is love, then I'm into that.
Previously, people were a burden. Now, I love spending time with anyone, regardless of his or her belief system. People are no longer a project to bring to conversion, or a possible warm body to prop up a church program, or a parishioner who might tithe regularly so we can grow the church. I am done with pimpin' the program.
It's healing just to write a bit of my story. Do I miss the ministry or attending church? No. I wouldn't trade my life for what I now have. How could I afford to leave? I drove trucks, waited tables, delivered pizza, installed cabinets, worked in a factory, sold houses, drove school bus, and worked at a golf course. Some of this I still do. If you are dying to get out, it isn't easy. It's a process. It's embarrassment at its highest in the church world. But what the hell, it's so worth it. I'm just starting to live and love.
Thanks for listening.