My parents would tell you that I was never good at conforming, though I’m not sure this is true. I conformed to the surf culture very nicely when living in southern California, the climbing culture in Colorado, and even to the pastoral cultural at one point in time.
In my seminary years, I struggled when I was told not to question or, even worse, when I was told that there wasn’t room for my authentic self – which sounds awfully lonely. No wonder so many of us pastors are lonely.
My sense is that relationship happens when vulnerability happens. So, what does this mean for a career where the pastor lives as if he or she is the savior, the great listener, or the sacrificer of life and family, and all the while hiding behind a professional script that says not to be the discloser? It seems to me that Christ disclosed much. If intimacy is about vulnerability, it would seem that many pastors fail miserably at vulnerability. I guess, I just couldn’t make it in pastoral ministry while hiding my vulnerable self.
I pastored in Colorado, Montana, and Oregon. The pay wasn’t bad, the hours weren’t all that bad either, and the church was only a few blocks from the house so I was able to get home or get to the kids from school with ease. But my last ministry was particularly painful.
As I entered my thirties, I continued to live out a life that craved intellectual and spiritual growth. I wanted to wrestle with the tough issues of faith and life. And, above all, I wanted to love all people. I wanted to break bread with those who would not enter our church and wanted to converse about their lived experience, their worldview, and how was it that many of them professed Christ, many of whom would not have been welcome in my church – unless they changed. Or we simply saw them as something other than Christian. The more I got to know the stories of others and listened to how they had been hurt by the church, the more I wanted to know about my own faith system.
And this is what I was truly unprepared for.
I could not remain in a job, a calling that I was passionate about, when I was having to hide parts of myself. I tried to share my spiritual journey with the congregation but my authentic expression was not met with warmth. Instead, at the drop of a pin, my whole system of belief was questioned. My ability to pastor in this particular evangelical church was questioned. And all I wanted to do was discover how to love all people without putting restrictions on my love.
This made people nervous. I suppose, if they had been open to my authentic expression, it would have meant that they, too, would have to wrestle with such tough questions. And this was too much for them.
I am also a professional counselor with a PhD in Counseling. How could the church not realize that this way of relating was a gross breach in boundaries – a form of dehumanization as they felt obliged to tell me how to believe rather than to understand my heart for Christ and my heart for all people? And how could I relate to others, to those in the church who were also questioning significant faith matters, if I wasn’t willing to live honestly?
I was not willing to hide my true self, so I resigned.
I served in full-time pastoral ministry for 12 years. I resigned from professional ministry when I was 36 years old – I am now 43 – and it was only last year, 6 years after my resignation, that I agreed to preach for a small rural church.
What’s your story?
Photo courtesy: Miles F. Wilson