Leaving Church…. and Staying
A couple of months ago, an article from a popular ministry journal featured the confessions of a pastor who had made the difficult decision to, not only leave his current pastorate, but to leave ministry all together. (No, this is not a note announcing my resignation or retirement!). Immediately, social media and other ministry journals exploded with similar reflections from those leaving church and ministry as well as those who are staying (and just to re-iterate… that’s me).
Those who are leaving have multiple reasons and they are valid. Many echo the experiences of others who are leaving life-long professions and ways of life. Some are unique to ministry. Each one of my colleagues have made what I can only imagine was a hard decision. I’m sure there was much soul-searching, financial considerations and prayer that was part of the journey. My heart goes out to them.
So, let’s talk about staying. Let’s face it, staying in ministry and active in church has its challenges. What doesn’t? We are committed to an organization and way of life that is in notable decline, and has been for quite some time. Church is no longer a given or an expectation. There are so many other things that draw our commitment, time, finances, energy, passions. Why stay?
A very popular process of discerning a church’s mission is to explore the question, “If your church no longer existed, how would your absence be felt in the lives of individuals, the community and the world?” My gut reaction to that is that it’s a fear-based question. It feels coercive. It also denies the power of the Holy Spirit to work outside the church. If the church ceases to exist, that old Holy Spirit would find a way to meet the needs of those who benefit from the church’s presence. So, again, why stay?
Here’s a few of my “why’s”
† I get to work alongside a group of people who love God, have a passion for the church and have been impacted by the church in ways most of us may never know.
† I get to engage people from birth to death and all ages in-between, walking with them through significant times in life, both the joys and the sorrows.
† I get to delve deeply into sacred texts and do my best to share insights and learnings about a loving God in a world that doesn’t always feel so loving.
† I get to serve with a diverse group of people who may never be invited to the same party but come to the same celebration week after week after week.
† I get to be witness to the way the love of God is embodied in all kinds of ways from a Sunday school that embraces all kinds and ages of kids to the power of cupcakes served at an open and affirming prom by a bunch of church women.
† I get to work with an amazing staff who not only love their work, they love and care for one another.
† I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.
Someday, in the not-too-distant future, I’ll retire. Until then, I’m grateful for all who have stayed, for those who are newly arrived, for those who return, and for those who have left. Where ever you are in this journey, thank you for being part of mine.
Have a blessed week.