Why I Am Resigning From Ministry

resignation-letterAs if our family hasn’t experienced enough change over the past year, on Sunday, November 09, 2014, we announced to our Church of the Cross family that, effective December 31, 2014, I will resign from all ministry leadership roles. I will no longer be on paid staff. Nor will I continue to serve as an Elder or Missional Community Leader in the Church of the Cross family.

This has been a long-coming but difficult decision. I have “officially” served in some sort of Christian ministry (paid or otherwise) for the past 19 years. This is the church we moved back to Arizona to plant. This is the church that has been our labor of love for the past six years. No one makes significantly intentional life decisions like this without lots of consideration and counsel. This is a big deal to us and we don’t take it lightly.

Perhaps I should say that it speaks loudly about American Evangelicalism that I feel the need to insert the emphatic notion here that this decision is not the result of sin (OK, yes, we all sin, but there is no disqualifying sin here). It speaks even louder about American Evangelicalism that I feel the need to urgently assert that this decision is not the result of a lapse in faith, or even joy in Jesus. There is no division within the church or its leadership and there is no bitterness that I know of. In fact, things with the church are going well and we are anticipating a season of health and growth.

It’s just time (Ecclesiastes 3).

But this is more complicated than just feeling the need for a career change. I know people that change careers more often than they change their underwear. OK, not really, it just sounded funny. Resigning from ministry brings many complications not necessarily associated with changing other careers.

How do you tell people you need a break from teaching others when it seems like that’s what you’re gifted at? How do you tell people you need a break from your job when your job is to care for people? You can’t take a break from caring. How do you tell people you need a break from your job when your job is “Christianity”. You don’t take a break from Jesus.

There are many jobs that you can job indefinitely at and it frankly doesn’t matter one squat in the woods if your heart is in it or not. I once worked at TCBY serving suburbanites and their kids frozen yogurt and assorted toppings. Never once did I feel passionately about it. But, over the course of months, I’ve heard from several people the concern that it doesn’t seem like I enjoy my job anymore.

It used to be that you picked a career and stuck with it until the pension. Both of my parents were elementary school teachers until retirement. But are there some jobs you just shouldn’t do any longer if your heart’s not in it? Teaching, maybe? Fighter Pilot? Probably? President of the United States, certainly? Pastoring? Most definitely.

In fact, a good seminary or wise leaders (those things are not always the same) will try to discourage potential pastors with such dire warnings as: “If you can picture yourself doing anything else, go do that instead” and, “If you’re heart’s not in it, step aside.”

As if that’s not enough pressure on pastors, I can think of no other “career” that has so much potential to wreak havoc on one’s sense of identity. It’s a difficult thing when your job performance is directly tied to your spiritual health. When your job is to lead others into spiritual maturity and you walk away from your job, it must be because you’re not succeeding at spiritual maturity yourself, right? Well, that’s at least how it’s often perceived. There is rarely a criticism of a pastor’s “job performance” that is also not a character critique. But I’m not resigning because ministry is difficult. If that were an option for me, it would have happened a long time ago. Of course ministry is difficult. But that’s not what I’m wrestling with.

Though we might not like it, we all know that we have a life cycle. We are born and we will die and we have a finite number of days in between. Over the years, I have come to believe that (as a Protestant speaking of the Protestant model) local churches also have life cycles. I’m not convinced that every local church is meant to last indefinitely. In fact, we probably push many local churches to keep gasping long after life support has been removed (let me say here that Church of the Cross is quite healthy and is actually experiencing exciting growth).

It’s only natural then, to wonder whether everyone who is called to elder is called indefinitely. Some churches place term limits on elders. For some reason that has never set well with me. Other churches let elders serve ad infinitum. This also doesn’t seem quite right.

Though the qualifications (with the possible exception of “able to teach”) to elder are nothing more than every Believer should strive for (1 Timothy 3, Titus, 1, etc), I wonder if certain men, like some certain churches have “life cycles” and if every mature Believer is called to an “official” ministry role. I know “qualified” people who do not “aspire” to the office of elder (1 Timothy 3:1). Is someone serving “officially” in a local church indefinitely tied to that role?

In other words, I am questioning my “life cycle” as an elder among (1 Peter 5) Church of the Cross. I have no doubt that God gave Kristi and me a clear vision for a gospel-centered/Jesus-focused/missional in suburbia/family-friendly/semi-liturgical family of people following Jesus that was meant to continue with or without us.

Our church has held to the conviction of shared leadership from the beginning and it is simply time for my time in the spotlight to subside. Convictions have not changed. Family sticks together, especially in the tough times. Church of the Cross will continue to follow Jesus with or without me because I’ve never been the one to hold it together.

When we adopted four children at once, our ministry focus changed. I had a very insensitive person whats-next(Colossians 4:6, Ephesians 4:29) tell me that I should resign from pastoring because I didn’t have enough love to spread between 8 kids and a church family. But that’s not it at all. I’m not “liberal”, but I do have a bleeding heart. I care for people beyond my capacity. The real issue has not been one of capacity but of priority.

Our ministry has shifted.

As such, I can no longer say that my heart is fully in “church ministry”. And if that’s the case, it’s not fair to anyone for me to continue. In fact, it’s probably better for everyone that I step aside. That person who said I lacked love didn’t understand the depth of love it takes to step aside for the good of others. I don’t say that to pat myself on the back. I say that just to let others understand what a difficult journey this has been for us.

Because I love God and His people, it is best that I lay aside the “official” weight of caring for others so that I can best care for the family He has brought under my roof. Because I love those God has brought under my roof, we will not withdraw from Christian community. My faith has not wavered. My convictions have not faltered. We will not withdraw from community, worship or God’s mission. But, our ministry has shifted.

We ask for your prayers because we don’t know what’s next. We are confident that this was the right decision for our family, but that doesn’t mean the next pieces have yet fallen into place. Please pray for peace, for wisdom, for clarity, for direction, for joy and for perseverance. Please pray for the Church of the Cross family during this time of transition. Please pray for our elders as they shepherd our church through this transition.

Thank you to all the family and friends who have journeyed with us so far and continue to travel through life with us.

It’s time for what’s next. Whatever that may be.

31 thoughts on “Why I Am Resigning From Ministry

  1. We love our COtC family and the Thomas family so very much, and we are with you all in spirit. Thanks for posting the update so we can keep up with the changes from afar and know how best to love & support y’all.

  2. Brent,

    God will guide and lead your family to where He wants you to be, as you continue to be obedient to listen for His voice and direction. Your heartfelt explanation is sound. It was time. May God bring you joy through trials and triumphs alike.

  3. Waaa! Waaaa! Waaa! If the gifts and calling of God are without repentance, what gives you the right to repent of them in Christ? Jesus finished his course, fought his good fight, and plowed on to the cross. And by the way, so did all his closest disciples – except one, who realized his mistake after the fact of resignation. I am not impressed by your public resignation confession. Why can’t you ask your people and leaders for a sabbatical? Healthy humble ministers do it all the time. You seem to be running out on your calling and blaming everyone but yourself for it – while giving the old Jewish mother cry for attention, “I just can’t take it anymore, my circumstances are killing me.” Well, Jesus and the twelve finished their calling and use of God-given gifts. Are you supposed to get a medal for your openness and honesty online and on Facebook. Waaa… Waaa… Waaaa….

    • You have to love cowards emboldened by the safety of the Internet.

      Gary, it’s clear from your comment that you don’t know the first thing about Brent, one of the most healthy (spiritually, emotionally, mentally, etc.) people I have ever known. He’s also someone who has provided support, teaching, and an example for numerous people. I count myself among them.

      Was there supposed to be some kind of constructive purpose to your little rant, or was it strictly self-serving, as it appears to be? Basic tact will serve one well in life. Do attempt to acquire some while you have time.

      Brent, you were there for me during the darkest time of my life and never asked anything but, “What can I do for you?” I won’t ever forget that (and am reminded of it each year as certain dates come around). Thank you. I know where ever your new journey leads, it will still help others.

  4. Gary,

    It’s people like you that make pastors want to resign. Your lack of understanding is astounding (did you even read what I wrote?) and your lack of compassion is disheartening.

  5. Gary, Do you even know if he took a sabbatical? This “healthy and humble minister” actually took a 3 month sabbatical last year from November- January. Unfortunately, he still had to deal with difficult people, much like yourself during that time. I don’t see how it would do anyone any good for him to continue ministry in the state he is in, or the state our family is in. When God called us into ministry, we answered, for a LONG time. He has graciously released us from “paid” ministry at this time and we are very thankful for that. Sorry that we didn’t consult with you first.

  6. Praying for you, Brent. I respect your decision, and the reasons you cite. Question: Will you stay on at the church as a lay elder? Do you think you might come back some time in the future as a lay elder? In my own life and ministry, I have come to think that lay eldership is so crucial. At any rate, I will pray for you and your family! Blessings!

  7. Thanks Nathan!

    How in the world are you guys? At this time I am stepping away from everything, though I can certainly see myself serving again some day.

  8. Dear Kristi and Brent,
    The faith and mercy you shared with my kids many years ago in Glen Rose will never be forgotten! May God grant you joy and peace as you enter the next phase of life in the Kingdom of God.
    My own resume looks like a 65 year old doctor who can’t keep a job, but each new opportunity through private practice, academics, public health, national and international policy, administration and writing have blossomed with grace and ministry. Your own mature resumes will reflect even greater glory and fruit!
    Thanks for being open to love well, ready to serve well, and faithful in the Savior’s service to your beautiful family and all God’s children.

  9. brent, I’ve always been impressed with ur pastoral heart;)

    I don’t doubt Gods goodness in his calling for u, to plant, to adopt & resign:)

    The weight of leading a church a large family would crush one or the other.

    I respect ur decision & will be glad to support or the church in any way we can.

    Grace to you!

  10. Grace! Praying His clear direction and abounding provision for you guys in what’s next! Regarding the earlier comment, some people just have no idea, do they?!

  11. My dear, dear friends Brent & Kristi… Wow, I love you both, and I have such gratitude for the time that we walked together in years past. I have to say, the quality that I have always respected about you Brent…is your passion and gut-raw honesty. Both are dripping all over the letter. God has definitely given you a heart to love, and sometimes in our humanity we forget the limits of simply being human. I love the humanity of your letter, and I know in what ever is the NEXT thing, will be the best thing for you all. I am honored to call you both, my friends. Peace to you my dear brother in the days ahead.

  12. Brent, I remember as a young and immature Bible College student, and preacher’s kid, preaching a “sermon” in Homiletics class criticizing former pastors who “left” the ministry. Fortunately, I had a professor who helped me gain a more mature perspective. As it turned out, I was one of those who “could do something else” and never entered formal vocational ministry. But over the many years since, I think you would find many individuals who would say I have been involved in ministry, either to them or through them. Hopefully, Mr. Hinchman will ultimately gain a better perspective. God’s gifts and callings may be without repentance, but His calling can take many different forms at different times and He can bring about changes and seasons in our lives.
    Brent, you will never leave the ministry, because you aren’t leaving your faith. Leaving formal vocational “ministry” is just exchanging one form of ministry for another. You will minister to your family, which next to your personal relationship with God, is and properly should be, your highest priority (I Tim. 5:8). My guess your love and care for others means you will also continue to care for and try to help or encourage (i.e. minister to) other individuals whose path crosses yours, when the circumstances make it appropriate. It is unfortunate that some think that only formal paid vocational ministry is “real” ministry. That is nonsense. Remember what Jesus said about giving someone a cup of water. All Christians are called to minister to one another, and even Paul supported himself with “secular” work. There is always more demand for help and support out there than any one person can possibly give. You are wise to consider your internal resources and draw boundaries to preserve your ability to continue to follow the Master’s call, wherever He leads you, not where others think you should go. We pray for God to give you and Kristi strength, confidence, and guidance as you embark on this new chapter in your life.

    • Thank you Dale (and Phyllis!),

      We appreciate and respect your kind words. We couldn’t agree more that we aren’t leaving “ministry.” Brent has been preaching Ephesians 4: 11-13 to our people for years. All the saints should be doing the work of the ministry.
      Thank you for your encouragement. Love, Kristi

  13. I really appreciate hearing your story and I doubly appreciate you allowing your thoughts and comments to be public.

    My husband and I were always very involved in ministry and when we were married and had children, we continued our ministry involvement. After 7+ years in the same church, I found myself feeling more and more drained. I was the director of the girls discipleship clubs (all ages), my husband worked in the boys clubs, and together we coached the Bible Quiz teams (an advanced discipleship competition for both boys and girls). Our children also participated in the Fine Arts programs and we worked in Children’s church. We were at church Sunday mornings from 9:00- 12:00pm, back at 5:00=7:00pm and then on Wednesday nights. In my spare time, I worked part-time and wrote Sunday School curriculum. At this church, volunteers for any program were “for life”, like the Supreme Court. It was a joke, only after awhile it wasn’t funny. At the time, I couldn’t understand why we couldn’t find more workers. And I thought I was indispensable.

    When I finally, finally, decided to let it go, I met with the pastor who told me that I would be back, I just needed a break. I told him I didn’t think so. I wrapped everything up as best I could and walked away. I wish I had done it sooner. My family missed me and I missed them. Even though we were participating in “the work” together, we weren’t getting to know each other. And the funny thing was, I didn’t know my fellow “workers” either. You would think that after working together for several years with the same people, a bond would be formed. But it’s not necessarily that way. Relationships based on “slave owner” and “slaves” are not that healthy.

    We are attending a new church and we are not in any form of service. It feels weird to be in small group when we could be leading the group. And to look around and see the others who are serving. But this church talks about a “margin” of space in which there is room to give to others. We still haven’t filled up our margin.

    Although your situation is different from mine, I can feel the common thread of needing to be with your family again. And I can feel how exhausting ministry can be. Maybe it’s time to let others serve you for a season. It’s an amazing feeling to know that your family will be receiving all of the talents, knowledge and attention that you were sharing with the world! I know that you will continue to shine for God no matter where you are.

  14. I totally trust that your decision was made with God’s blessing and wisdom. You and Kristi will always walk with Him at your side and with your children. I love you!

  15. Brent, I resonate with a lot of what you wrote – especially about one’s job performance in ministry being tied into one’s spiritual character. I’m curious about what you might do next, too. I would imagine that supporting a family of 10 can’t be easy. I pray that God will provide bountifully for you during this season of transition where your status as a pastor/leader is missing.

  16. Such an encouraging post not just in regards to your life cycle but also as an commentary on the Church as a whole and our own roles and life cycles within it. Blessings on your next steps. Grateful to work “with” you and hope to meet your family someday soon. 🙂

  17. We love you and your family and support you 100%. I’m confident that this decision will bear precious fruit for God’s Kingdom, and not just out of your own home. Thank you for never confusing our mission with our vocation.

  18. Pingback: Pastoral Burnout

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