I think we can agree that being a pastor is more noble than being a convict. But announce that you are a former pastor and there will be raised eyebrows and whispers as though you had identified yourself as a former convict. Likely, either will elicit a silent response as they think, “I wonder what he did.”
If you’re a former pastor you’re at least a curiosity to unchurched people. Among church people the assumption about you is likely to fall in one or more of the following categories:
Unless you are 65+ years old and retired from ministry, being a former pastor seems to be an indictment of your character, your faith and perseverance, and/or your obedience to God. Regardless, you didn’t finish the race. You either quit or got disqualified; and both are disgraceful. Actually, neither are disgraceful but that’s how you feel, isn’t it?
If you’re a former pastor then you’re an expastor, which sounds like you are a divorcee. Ask almost anyone who has been through a divorce, and whether they wanted the divorce or resisted it, it made them feel like a failure at marriage. Most people go into pastoral ministry with a vow (or at least with a mindset) of till-death-do-us part. Not retiring from the pulpit or dying in it can feel like failure—even though it can also produce a feeling of relief.
In Israel during the time of Jesus there was no greater position in the Jewish community than the rabbi. There was nothing you could have done vocationally that would have made your parents more proud. If you were a rabbi there was nowhere to go but down as a second career.
Likewise it can be difficult for clergy to leave the ministry (for whatever reason) for another vocation without feeling that it requires great explanation and probably apology of some sort. As one deacon told a burned out pastor after he resigned, “You’re not only letting this church down, you’re letting Jesus down.” And that’s the real blow.
As one assistant pastor told me, “I not only feel like I had to leave the ministry for my own physical, emotional, spiritual, and marital survival; and not only do I not know what I will do next because ministry is all I’ve ever done and all I know how to do; on top of all that I have the weight of hearing and feeling that I’m a huge disappointment to God.”
The well-hidden and well-documented epidemic of clergy leaving the ministry (see Chapter 1) and the injury, wounds, pain, and scars known by former pastors makes a book like this one so very important and helpful.
Whether you are a lead pastor or an assistant pastor; whether you are young in the ministry or a battle-scarred veteran; whether you have already left the ministry or are considering it; whether you left your church voluntarily or were asked/forced to leave; whether you long to return to pastoral ministry or are intent in fleeing in the opposite direction … this book is for you.
This is an excerpt from Dr. Ramon Presson’s foreword in the book, Why Pastors Quit by Bo Lane. To find out more about the book, click here.