As 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 (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.