About 8 months ago, after having been a pastor for over 22 years, my denomination asked me to resign as senior pastor of the church I founded. Suddenly, I found myself to be something I had never been before. An expastor.
The journey has not been easy and, at times, I’ve struggled at finding my spiritual equilibrium. My wife and I want to raise our children in a healthy and effective church, so we painfully continue to search for a suitable congregation that will be a challenging, but non-threatening, vibrant community for our three young kids to plug into and grow. My new job only permits me to show up for one or two services a month, but we think it’s best to commit to life within a specific body of the imperfect people of God.
The above is my true story. Different variations of this story have been told countless times and by countless individuals. Each journey is unique. The circumstances may be different, but the struggle is very similar. When a pastor stops being a pastor, something changes. Life changes.
My particular path didn’t involve a church split, someone’s failure, or a ministry-ending circumstance. Instead, I was asked to work for my denomination as a Supervisor of about 140 other churches. This was a positive event for me. But, truthfully, I wasn’t prepared for the challenging season I was about to face when stepping out of the pastorate.
Pastoring, I realized, was the only really meaningful work I had ever done in my adult life. Though I have always taught against being defined by our ministry assignment, I was largely unaware how much influence being a pastor of a church had on my identity. My wife and I were shepherds of a flock, and we were involved in the progressive discipleship of people we loved and knew intimately.
Week after week, I wrestled with the Word of God, looking for the sermon that would give some prophetic direction and encouragement to the congregation. Season after season, I prepared for the next big event or holiday that would prove meaningful to our church. And month after month, I trained, discipled, and administered – praying over the mystery that God was unfolding among our unique local congregation.
I miss that.
I miss pastoring. I miss preaching. And, while I still frequently preach, it’s often a recycled sermon I spoke to another congregation just the week before. Anyone, I’ve found, can be a good guest speaker, but preaching is an continual act meant to move people, little by little, in a direction towards maturity in the Lord.
I miss the little things. The other day I was weighed down by the fact that I would no longer transition a service or lead communion. I won’t receive an offering or bless a congregation at dismissal. I won’t baptize new believers or dedicate babies. These regular and sometimes mundane parts of congregational life are things that give rhythm to our communities. They are small things which provide “pace” to pastors.
While in the midst of my season as a pastor, these simple tasks sometimes seemed like a chore. But now as I reflect on them, I realize how vital they were – both to my church and to me.
But, though I still struggle, I’ve come to live, and not just teach, the reality that a ministry assignment should not define a person. Ministry is something all believers do. Assignments, by their very nature, change. Sometimes they change because of job transitions and sometimes because of a crisis. But whatever the case, God’s plan is to work wthin us to express His Kingdom in the world.
Some of us miss pastoring. Others are glad that season is over. But all of us are called to engage the message and ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5) and that assignment isn’t attached to a job description, title or paycheck. It is part of a calling and identity that all believers get to embrace.