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For Those Who Leave the Professional Ministry

Earlier this week (via David Fitch on Facebook) I came across this piece by Jason Savage: Why I’m Leaving The “Ministry.” I think this is a piece to which many people currently in ministry can relate. Jason writes:

The reality is, I can no longer handle the “professionalism” of the church. I’m tired of running a non-profit incorporation that calls itself a church. I’m tired of feeling limited in the scope of relationships because of some strange “loyalty” to a particular name on a church that pays my salary. Truthfully, I don’t particularly like what God showed me about myself in these last seven years. I realize now he was first calling me to preach repentance to myself.I found that it is far too easy to be in love with “the ministry” and not with Jesus or people. I found myself using relationships to advance our “cause”. I found myself dreading to speak the word of God because of great discouragement. I found myself wanting to help people who were being shipwrecked in the faith, but not really sure how to stop the boat. I was being hurt and hurting others. And I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that these past eleven years of school and paid ministry were not about what I was going to “do” but about who I was supposed to “be”.

I have to say that there were many times while I was in pastoral ministry that I thought of quitting. And, it wasn’t because I didn’t care. It was precisely because I did care. In my worst moments of this, I even wondered if the church was standing in the way of God’s Reign in this world — rather than advancing it.

And, I know people who have left the professional ministry and never looked back.

I have just a few thoughts on this.

(1.) I am sure that those in the professional ministry do more good than they realize. It’s just impossible to measure the effect that one person’s life will have on others. Certainly there are ways of measuring effectiveness in ministry and comparing one person’s (or one ministry’s) effectiveness against another — I’m not against such metrics at all — but not all the fruits of ministry can be measured. Faithful living, faithful teaching, faithful compassion all have an effect on people’s lives. I know my own life has been influenced by pastors and teachers who were by no means celebrities — their faithfulness became a model for me. And, I am thankful that they hung in there in pastoral ministry through whatever discouragement they experienced — they didn’t have to — I’m sure they could have honored God with their lives in many other ways — I’m just thankful they did.

(2.) The church does not always function as a place of healing and acceptance and support for those who are in professional ministry. That’s too bad, but it is true. People in professional ministry are hired by the church. They have a professional relationship with the church. It sets them apart — and often not in a good way. So, they have to find
the things that other people come to church for elsewhere. Hiring processes in local churches — interviews, etc. — can’t be any more affirming than they would be in the secular world — it is essentially the same process. So, also with pastoral appointments and calls, etc., with performance reviews and so forth. People in professional ministry have to find church outside the church they serve — and, really, anywhere they can. It is easy to become cynical and discouraged about the church — often precisely because we want to see it as something better, higher and more holy than it is. And, we wish that it would function for us the way we preach and teach that it should for others.

(3.) But, nonetheless, I am very much in support of those who feel they can serve God more effectively outside the professional ministry than they can within it. They may be right about that. Too much of the church’s life and focus is upon itself. But, the Reign of God in this world — the Kingdom of God that Jesus announced — is larger than the church — it is about God’s will and purpose for all people and for the created order.

So, I wish Jason — and the many others like him — well in his service to God outside the professional ministry.

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