Famous Pastors Who Have Left Pastoral Ministry

This article by Andy Rowell appeared in Christianity Today almost two years ago, but I have a copy of it in my files and thought it would be worth sharing.  I’ve noticed too, as author Randy Rowell points out, that when pastors gain a larger platform as well-known pastors, writers, and speakers, they tend to leave  the pastorate.  As Rowell suggests, they are hopefully in God’s will in making the transition.  But then there’s the rest of us who are called to plod along as pastors.  Check out the article  HERE.

The Busy Pastor

A neighbor of our daughter and her family
in Mexico shepherding his flock

I have had to learn again and again that to be about my Heavenly Father’s business means I must not be too busy. My busyness and His business are often not the same work!

Eugene Peterson writes, “A sense of hurry in pastoral work disqualifies one for the work of conversation and prayer that develops relationships that meet personal needs. There are heavy demands put upon pastoral work, true; there is difficult work to be engaged in, yes. But the pastor must not be ‘busy.’… there must be a wide margin of leisure.”

Peterson then quotes Henri Nouwen. “Without the solitude of heart, our relationships with others easily become needy and greedy, sticky and clinging, dependent and sentimental, exploitative and parasitic, because without the solitude of heart we cannot experience the others as different from ourselves but only as people who can be used for the fulfillment of our own, often hidden, needs.” (Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, Eugene Peterson, pp. 61-62, Eerdmans, 1980)

I have had the opportunity on various occasions to watch a shepherd tend his flock of sheep. I don’t ever recall seeing shepherds rush about. They tend to walk slowly; mostly they just stand. Why, as the shepherd of God’s flock of people, do I feel prompted to always be rushing, giving the impression I must be somewhere else other than where I am? Lord, wherever you have me be today, help me to be all there for as long as you want.

My Main Job at The Church

John Ortberg, pastor of Menlo Park Church in Menlo Park, California, wrote a good article in Leadership Magazine, Summer 2011. Here’s a brief reference in the article that struck a chord with me.

“Last fall I asked a friend, ‘What’s the main thing I need to be doing for our church to be a place where lives are being transformed?’ He said, ‘Your primary job is to experience deep contentment and joy and confidence in your everyday life with God.’

Now I have that on a sign that hangs above the door of my office. It reminds me, before I write sermons or lead meetings or do planning, that my main job at the church is to live in deep contentment, joy, and confidence in my everyday walk with God.”

Ministry By Meandering

I try to schedule my day and plan ahead, but I’ve also found that God’s agenda for me is frequently different from mine. Take yesterday as an example.

In the morning I went to the hospital and prayed with a woman from our church before she went to surgery. I figured on seeing her husband as well, and I did, but I also met her children and step-children who were also there. We waited for a good twenty minutes before we were invited back to the prep area so I had a good chance to talk with the family that I don’t believe have a church connection.

Later that morning I was at our local library and ran into a man who’s working full time but also getting a Bible degree at a local college. We had a chance to talk for a few minutes.

After lunch I had planned to visit a lady in rehab but felt prompted to visit another man in our church instead who’s dealing with a major health issue. I stopped by his house and he wasn’t home, but he drove up just when I was about to leave. When I was leaving his wife pulled up and I helped carry some groceries into the house, something he couldn’t do.

My next stop was Starbucks (you have to deal with the necessities of life). I was doing some e-mailing on my laptop when a man I know came in to get a coffee. He has a PhD, is a professor at the University of Toledo, just got a Masters in Theology, and is also a part-time associate pastor at a local church. He was glad to see me and wanted to get my opinion on his future plans with which he’s grappling. I felt honored that he wanted my input.

Later that evening my wife and I helped out at our church’s fish fry and I met a man I had worked with in a ministry situation 30 years ago. After the fish fry Diann and I went to an “open mic” night at a storefront church where I heard a guy deliver the good news of Jesus in rap. I don’t normally like rap but, Wow, he was good!

I’ve decided that discerning God’s will on a day-to-day basis is not something you can always plan out ahead of time. Sometimes we discover God’s will by wandering around, allowing for the serendipitous Spirit to lead.  It’s interesting that when people build a water drainage ditch they make it straight.  When God makes one He makes a winding river.

I’m trying to appreciate the fact that being a pastor allows me to wander about as I see fit, trying to be led by the Lord. I’m guessing that pastors of very large churches spend more of their days in their offices and at one meeting after another (I have enough of those in the evenings, but that’s another story). I’m grateful I can flit about a bit. More and more I’m trying to pray,

“Lord, where would you have me go today,
what would you have me do,
and what would you have me say?
Help me to be led of you.
This is what I pray.”

Defining Our Calling

Henry Drummond wrote, “The end of life is to do God’s will. . . . That is the object of your life and mine – to do God’s will. It is not to be happy or to be successful, or famous, or to do the best we can. . . . It is something far higher than this – to do God’s will.”

Most of us won’t be called to live in a way that’s larger than life, in exciting places, doing exciting things. Drummond wrote, “We are neither intended to be apostles nor missionaries nor martyrs, but to be common people living in common houses, spending the day in common offices or common kitchens, yet doing the will of God there, we shall do as much as apostle or missionary or martyr – seeing that they can do no more than do God’s will where they are, even as we can do as much where we are – and answer the end of our life as truly, faithfully and triumphantly as they.”

He went on to say that a healthy Christian life “is not defined by how happy we are, by how prosperous or healthy we are, or even by how many people we have led to the Lord in the last year. Christian health is ultimately defined by how sincerely we wave our flag of surrender, how earnestly we want to do and be exactly what God wants us to do and be.” (quoted in Thirsting for God, Bary Thomas, ebook – loc – 1748 & following, by Gary Thomas)