As my family prepares to leave for a new season of life (in five days!), I have been feeling led to explain in greater detail why we feel now is the right time to uproot and move to another place. So I thought I would take time to write and address some common questions we have gotten.
The most common question I get is, “so you’re not going to be working for a church?”
I have been in full-time, paid ministry for seven years and was in Bible college preparing for full-time, paid ministry for the four years before that. Eleven years of my life has been dedicated to the presupposition that my greatest effectiveness was to work within the current structure of the church and to fulfill the mission that God has given to me since I was a teenager.
The mission that I feel God has put me on is to “preach repentance to the church in America.” I know it sounds arrogant. But before you get angry at me, let me explain. The American church is an odd breed. I remember taking a buddy of mine to one of the largest church planting conferences and as we walked through the “expo” center he said to me, “wow, I had no idea church planting was so commercialized.” This was an “untrained” man who did not live in the church celebrity/leadership culture that I had become accustomed to. He reminded me of the nagging little thought that always bothers me about many of our churches. We are far too in love with ourselves.
We like our denominations, logos, productions, buildings, music, brand, staff, and social activities. We are an oddity when compared to scripture. We do it all in the name of ministry and talk of our kingdom advances and the souls won for Christ. But I have found that if we peel back the curtain and get past all the rhetoric and talk, we find a crumbling church structure, fighting to survive, afraid of losing our power in the community.
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”.
The funny thing about the title of this post is, I’m not leaving the “ministry” at all. In fact, I believe I’m preparing to move into some of my most effective service in the kingdom of God. I know many paid leaders in churches would be liberated by not being paid by the church. The problem is they haven’t been trained to do anything else. So out of fear, they stay. I wish more would actually leave the “Ministry”.
So no, I won’t be paid by the church. But that doesn’t mean I’m leaving ministry. What it means is that I can continue on in the journey that Christ has called me to. I can still preach the gospel. I can still love my neighbors. I can still bring healing to the broken. I can still seek to set the captives free. I can still counsel the downhearted. I can still disciple my children. I can still serve the church. None of that changes. The only thing that’s really changing, is probably my own, and others, perception of me.
And to be honest, that might be a good thing.