In seminary, we learned about a large group of men, the majority who start out in church work. They don’t make it, they fall away and drop out. They don’t make it. I remember thinking I was never going to be one of those. I was going to stay long term at a church. I was going to be like those men with great ministries because they put in the time. I finished seminary and went to the church I was going to spend decades serving. This is where I was going to put down roots.
My long tenure lasted 4 years and the decision was made I would resign. I wasn’t voted out by the congregation, there was no moral failure I didn’t run off with another woman. I’m still married to my wife, no criminal record and I didn’t run away with the churches money. I won’t go into details of what happened, because it doesn’t really matter. It’s not about my specific story because I’m not an anomaly. I was an Associate Pastor, but you can insert Worship Pastor, Youth Pastor, Children’s Pastor into my story. I am sure in some churches, Senior or Lead Pastor could have the same story I do. Whatever the title, we get a new one, the drop outs, the quitters, the losers who didn’t make it.
I didn’t leave the town, which is why I’m not in vocational ministry. We joined a local church, I got a job and life went on. My wife kept her job, my kids stayed in school and I go to work every morning. I live in a quiet agony, knowing I’m one who didn’t make it. I go to church, but I’m not super involved. Not because I don’t want to be, but because I focused my entire life to be in ministry, so my skills to get a job outside the church limit my opportunities. I don’t have the education or skills to get a great job working banker’s hours.
What really hurts is that my local church isn’t really seeking my help either. My years in ministry, my education and my passion focuses on Sunday School. I love Sunday School and I have Arthur Flake’s picture tattooed on my chest, over my heart. Ok, I don’t have a Flake tattoo, but I believe his formula works. I have great experience and success in growing Sunday School, but currently I’m not even teaching. I am more on the sidelines, just listening and being a student.
I grieve. Ministry wasn’t a job, it was my calling and my dream. From the age of 16, I devoted my life to being in ministry. I worked in churches as a daycare worker, janitor, youth pastor, associate pastor, I’ve been a college minister and co-pastor of a Coffee House church. I’ve been to dozens of conferences, trainings and workshops. I’ve been trained to be a coach, supervisor, fund raiser and my seminary degree in Ed Leadership. I have libraries of books on ministry from philosophy to leadership in every area. I can be a purpose drive, team sporting, organic, essential and transformational church leader. Even now, 4 years after I left vocational ministry I read all the material I can get to be a better pastor. Better late than never I guess.
I try to do what I can. I talk about Christ with coworkers and friends. I am helping in a church plant that meets on Sunday Nights. I have been pretty bad lately about attending though, things are hectic. I try to do ministry in my life, and I hear it all the time when I talk about my heartbreak. People tell me “you don’t need to be in full time vocational ministry to serve God”. I know this, and I understand it on an intellectual level, but my heart is still broken. My entire life’s focus was on serving God in vocational ministry.
I don’t know if I’ll ever serve in a church again. While my kids are in school, I have committed not to drag them all over the country, so I am staying where I am. I will take advantage of the opportunities to serve as I can, knowing that my time is very limited by job. I work long hours to make enough money to provide, like I said I don’t have the education and experience for much more than entry level jobs outside of the church. It’s a struggle, and every day I think about my dream. Every day I wish I could be in a church that has a strong Sunday School program that I can use my skills and education. Every day I think about the one on one mentoring I use to do. I miss what I use to do.
When you find us in your church, the one’s who didn’t make it, care for us. Most of us are hurting, many of us regret things and have deep pain. Use us, we have skills and talents, we have learned a few things in our time. We want to help and serve or we wouldn’t have been in the ministry to start with. Some need some restoration, some need some counseling. Many who didn’t make it have moral failure and need help and guidance and forgiveness. Many like me don’t have any moral failure and just want a chance to serve again.
Remember us, the quitters, the drop outs, the ones who didn’t have what it takes. Pray for us, walk beside us. Maybe some day we can be back in the calling and place that we love. In the meantime, we need grace, support and a family of believing brothers and sisters.