Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

Why I Left Ministry But Could Not Stay Away

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I was recently approached by a fellow minister and asked if I would run their story on my blog anonymously. Typically I would refrain from publishing any anonymous post to my blog, but I felt this minister had some good reasons for wanting to stay anonymous. Around this same time two posts were going around the internet on why ministers were leaving the church. I thought it would be beneficial to actually hear from a minister who did leave for a short time, and why he decided to return. I understand that there are many different reasons why a minister would want to leave, but here is an account of one minister who did. In the coming days I plan on blogging more on this subject, and I hope to begin a dialogue that will be beneficial to ministers, church leaders, and the entire body of Christ.

I am telling my story now not to bring disgrace to the congregations I have served in the past, but only to help ministers and other leaders who are struggling with similar issues. I am remaining anonymous in order to protect others and myself. I hope the following is helpful to anyone who might read it, and I hope it will spur discussions that will make the church and those in it better followers of Jesus.

There are many fears involved with ministry: fear of failing, being ineffective, not connecting with a congregation, etc. However, one of the worst fears many ministers have is being a part of a congregation that has leaders that fail to understand the Biblical model of leadership. Unfortunately, I have served in congregations like this and it almost caused me to leave ministry for good.

When one thinks of the duties of an elder/pastor certain images come to mind. The image of a shepherd leading a flock of sheep is found throughout Scripture. The model of leadership Jesus gives is that of someone who is willing to serve. The Biblical model of leadership is very different from the one presented by the world. Unfortunately, the leadership in many congregations looks more like a business boardroom than a gentle shepherd who leads his flock by voice.

While I was at a particular congregation, I experienced many things that never sat right with me, and some that I believe were handled inappropriately. For instance, when a leader is unwilling to approach a person they have an issue with, this is not only unscriptural, it sets a poor example for the rest of the congregation. One time, a man led a prayer where he asked God to look over someone because he, “is a hell of a good guy.” Instead of going to the man and addressing what may not be appropriate language, especially during a worship assembly, they told the Deacon in charge of scheduling to never allow him to lead a prayer again. This type of behavior continued as long as I was a minister there. Rarely was a person ever encouraged to go to the person they had an issue with. Instead, the ministers were notified by the elders about anonymous complaints from the members, and members would come to the ministers to complain about the elders. Very few things were ever resolved and I often felt stuck in the middle of ongoing issues.

At one point, the eldership made the decision that people involved in worship needed to look a certain way. To enforce this, they told every song leader that if they wanted to lead singing on Sunday morning they had to wear a coat and tie. If they didnʼt have one, they would not be allowed to lead singing on Sunday morning, as their dress was not appropriate. This was not limited to song leaders. I was told that as a minister I was expected to dress appropriate. This ruled out even a nice solid color Polo shirt, as it was a pull-over shirt. The time spent focusing on appropriate apparel for all involved in worship assemblies was frustrating, to say the least. The pulpit minister was expected to wear a coat when he preached, because there had been “complaints” about one time when he simply had on a nice shirt and slacks. Thankfully, several of the song leaders spoke out on this, and in a rare move, the elders backed off their ruling for song leaders, but not for ministers. After all, ministers were on staff and could “be told what to do” while they couldnʼt force volunteers to do anything.

A class was taught on Changing Times in Todayʼs Church. At one class, the elder teaching spoke out against what he read in the Christian Chronicle. He prefaced the article by saying, “The Chronicle is published by Oklahoma Christian University, so you have to take anything they say with a grain of salt to begin with.” He was upset because of a group of students in the article who met in homes without the title Church of Christ, in an attempt to follow only what the New Testament said.

Many times the Deacons had nothing to do because the Elders only trusted themselves to do the work. When they did let a Deacon do work, they were constantly micromanaged or told how to better do their job. The Deacon in charge of Missions finally quit because he was not given the freedom to do the tasks that were assigned to him.

After being there a year, a handbook for employees was given to me. It differed drastically in what I was given as a job description when I started. It also stated that the handbook was a living document, and could be changed at any time. It also stated that any employee could be terminated for any reason at any time, or without any reason at all. I was disappointed to learn that a minister could be fired without a Scriptural reason being given. The handbook read more like a manual you would find in a secular business than a guideline for a church that was striving to follow the example of Jesus.

Most of these things had nothing directly to do with me, but I was disappointed by the type of leadership I was seeing. After all, these were the men I was supposed to look to as an example and turn to for spiritual guidance. It was when they decided to reteach the Changing Times class that things directly affected me. We had 3 adult classes. I told the class I was teaching what the next quarter options were, and left it at that. I was told later that I should have “Told everyone in my class they HAD to go to the Changing Times class.” When expressing my discomfort in forcing people to attend a class, I was told, “Thatʼs ok, we (The Elders) have no problem doing it. We should never have relied on you to do this in the first place.” Two weeks later I was fired. I asked if it was solely because of not forcing young adults to go to the class, and they said it was the final straw. After asking what else they said, “Look in the mirror. You have facial hair.” I never received any other reasons.

I left, and I quit ministry for a while. My prior work was at a congregation without elders. They had menʼs business meetings, and the focus there was primarily on business. Meetings went on and on about money and other business related items. Between my first two ministry positions being like this, I became very wary of the world of ministry. These were men who were supposed to be mature Christlike individuals. I expected them to be graceful and merciful, but no grace was offered to me. There were no second chances. I admit I could have handled myself better at times, but my transgressions did not merit the reaction I received. The elder who largely asserted himself as the head said this upon firing me, “You can clean out your office tomorrow and never come back, and that would be just fine with me.” I was distraught. I wanted to leave ministry because of what I experienced at the first two congregations I was with. I had experienced very little love. I was a young minister and I was not mentored or helped by the leaders of these churches. I was not treated as a person who loves God and has given his life to the church, but as an employee that can be easily replaced.

Eventually I returned to ministry. I am currently working with a church and my experience with them has been very different than my previous experiences. So, why did I stick around with everything I had gone through? Hope and prayer. My family prayed constantly for what we should do. We began attending a congregation that loved us and loved all of its members, including the hired staff. They focused on the spiritual, and not physical matters like what a minister wears. They cared about their congregation. They focused not on growing financially or numerically, but on growing spiritually. I didnʼt get a job at that congregation, but it gave me hope. It showed me that there are places where leaders are like the shepherds I had read about in Scripture, and not like a board of directors leading a church much like a business.

I know there are many ministers who are in the same position I once was and I want you to know there is hope. If you are in a position where you feel like the wrong actions are taking place, do not gripe about it. Do not simply complain to other ministers, but first take it to those men themselves. If things donʼt change, donʼt give up on ministry. You can still be an effective minister even though you may be in a bad situation. If you end up leaving the congregation, donʼt become discouraged with the church. Yes, there are some leaders that have their priorities all mixed up, but there are many others that treat their sheep with love and respect. Donʼt give up! Have hope and know that you can make a difference.

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One Response to “Why I Left Ministry But Could Not Stay Away”

  1. “Eldering” is taught very seldom – and when it is – the discussion comes down to “believing children” (HOW MANY) and that kind of “qualification” – “apt to teach” is simply ignored. So – most think they are there to “RUN IT” – not to “shepherd”. Thanks for beginning this discussion . . .God-speed in this valuable venture . . .


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