I was once a pastor. I hope you can find some wisdom in my journey. This is the second installment in a four-part series.
For many Christian churches, October is considered “Pastor Appreciation Month.” As someone who served in pastoral ministry for a number of years, I thought it might be helpful to share my story. If you haven’t read it already, you can find the first part of my story in the post Why I Was Once a Pastor.
WHY I AM NO LONGER A PASTOR
I had to lay it all down, there is no other explanation for turning aside from a calling that I had felt over a lifetime, a commitment I intended to honor until death, and a consecration certified by the leadership of the Assemblies of God. I was chosen to be a servant of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1), but somewhere along the way, I became the author of my own destiny. This calling became my ministry, my task, my profession, and after nearly two decades of ministry, I quickly grew tired of balancing spinning plates on poles as I worked day and night to keep them moving.
Somewhere along the way, I lost the freedom of my relationship with God. I was no longer His steward, but instead demanded that He be mine, because after all it was my name that was at stake. I was the one who was called when there was a problem in the church, I was the one who spent time away from my family to minister to the needs of others, I was the one who seemed to always offend someone, I was the one whose name was run through the mud over and over again.
Through all the struggles, I remained faithful. I didn’t fail morally, I didn’t take advantage of the faithful, I quickly forgave those who hurt me, and I didn’t succumb to arrogance. There was nothing to disqualify me from remaining in ministry. But there was much that was wrong. I had become the focus, I had taken the burdens, I had made the sacrifice.
Only one sacrifice is good enough.
When a man or a woman forgets that they are a steward of the mysteries of God, when they forget that they are merely a servant, and fail to slow down enough to seek God’s direction, they are essentially declaring themselves the Source, and there is only one personality in the universe Who is the Source of all creation. Only one Who can see the mysteries, only one who has paid the price. And, He knows that the burden is too great for us to bear.
My body began to break down, my heart began to despair, my mind began to grow weary. I failed to honor the Sabbath-principle, as I worked another job to support my family, maintained ministry at our church, going seven days a week without any rest, time off, or days alone with God and with my family.
Finally, it became too much. I was in intense pain for nearly a year, suffered bouts of pneumonia, struggled through a surgery, then I fell off of a ladder, dislocated my hip and fractured my back. I resigned from my pastorate the next Sunday, and by the end of July, 2008 I was gone. I began attending another Assemblies of God church, and I told the Lead Pastor that I was going to let my pastoral credentials lapse when the time came for their renewal in December. I was fractured, I was crushed, I was wounded, I was finished.
I wanted my relationship with God back more than I wanted pastoral ministry. I wanted time with my family back. I wanted to pray, to study, to run into the desert, because apart from ministry I had no other purpose. I wanted to hear God’s call once again:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew [and] approved of you [as My chosen instrument], and before you were born I separated and set you apart, consecrating you; [and] I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.
See, I have this day appointed you to the oversight of the nations and of the kingdoms to root out and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.
~ Jeremiah 1:5,9-10, AMP
Without blaming others, I can list a myriad of reasons for my failure in ministry, including:
- A deep awareness of my own inadequacy,
- A strong desire to please others,
- An unwillingness to be vulnerable,
- An idealism often at odds with reality.
However, ultimately my failure was one of misplaced responsibility. This calling wasn’t meant to be an unbearable burden, I was fully equipped for the task, but I was also required to recognize my role. I am simply a steward. God alone bears the burden and responsibility for the task and calling of ministry. Like Moses, I believed that I was called to deliver God’s people from the burdens of the brickyard, like Moses I tried to accomplish this by my own hand, and like Moses I have been banished to the desert.
So I wait for the call once again. I long for my “burning bush.” I ply my trade, and I wait for the day when the Lord can see me turn aside and call out to me. And like Moses, I want to answer, “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:4b, ESV), and as God speaks, saying “I have surely seen the affliction of my people…” (Exodus 3:7, ESV). I want to know that my face is hidden, and my heart is trembling, and my mouth is crying out “Who am I that I should go…” (Exodus 3:11, ESV), as my ears hear the words, “But I will be with you…” (Exodus 3:12, ESV).
Then, my heart will be glad, for that is the purpose of pastoral ministry, that is the reason we rejoice as Christians, that is the stewardship of mystery, Immanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23)!