Thursday, June 10, 2010

Secret Life of a Pastor - Chapter Four

Leaving my life as a pastor at the age of 44 was a sudden move, a scary move, and a financially absurd move. It was not, however, an original move. I had done it once before, way back at the beginning.

My last year of college was a whirlwind. I accepted the pastorate of a small rural church late in my junior year. That summer I got married and started working six days a week at a furniture store. When classes resumed in the fall, I was a full-time student, a nearly full-time employee of the Texas Furniture Company, and the pastor of the Naruna Baptist Church. It was a full life.

My agreement with the church was that I would stay through my graduation in May at which time I would be moving away to attend seminary. By February I knew I couldn’t make it. I suddenly felt incapable of preaching one more sermon, much less a dozen more. In shame, I informed the church that I would be resigning several months earlier than they had expected. They were confused. “Why couldn’t I just stay through May like we had talked about?” they wanted to know. I didn’t have an answer. I just knew I was done.

This experience was the great existential crisis of my early adulthood. Since I was 15 I knew I was going to be a preacher. I went to college to study and prepare for that future, and knew that seminary would be the next step. While in college I had met the love of my life and knew that getting married was right for me. It was a life filled with certitude.

Suddenly nothing was certain. I was paralyzed by doubt and fear. Here I was, about to finish college and head to seminary, and the thought of being a pastor terrified me. I had tried it, albeit in a limited fashion, and been overwhelmed by it. If I couldn’t handle being the weekend pastor to a church of 40 good souls, how was I going to manage ministering in a larger setting?

The clearest memory I have of those days was the walk I took across the campus with KaKi. We had been married about eight months and our plans for the future were in place: graduation for both of us, seminary for me, and a teaching job for her. Now, as we walked in front of the library on a brisk winter morning, I was trying to explain what was happening to me. Only I didn’t know. I didn’t know why I couldn’t finish my time at the country church. I didn’t know why the thought of a future as a minister filled me with anxiety. What I do know is that in my moment of terrified confusion KaKi didn’t blame or judge me. Her support on that chilly morning is a gift I still treasure.

Twenty-five years later I have much more compassion and understanding for that confused, scared preacher boy who was me. I know now that I was exhausted from a pace that was unrelenting. I also realize that my first experience of trying on the role of pastor had exposed me in ways I was not prepared to handle. I didn’t feel good enough, holy enough, or strong enough to be a spiritual guide for others. I hadn’t yet learned the truth that ministering to people is mostly about showing up and listening. It would be years before I grasped the fact that it was okay for me not to have all the answers. It would be even longer before I understood that my parishioners didn’t want answers anyway. They wanted what we all want, what we all need, what I got from KaKi on that cold morning in front of the school library: a minister who loved them for who they were; a minister who cared for them when they were hurting; a minister who tried to tell and live the truth.

The first time I “left the ministry” I was young, confused, and the departure would be temporary. The next leaving came in the middle of my life in a moment of absolute clarity. Same result, but it feels completely different.


  1. So you are equipped with well earned wisdom to mix in with your certain, yet seemingly illogical decision this time round? Seems to me you have put that wisdom to good use over these years.

  2. "I hadn’t yet learned the truth that ministering to people is mostly about showing up and listening." This is the line that most resonates with me. We can all be ministers--don't need no stinkin' degree or job title (unless we want to paid for it). Thank you for the reminder. "We are ministers because we minister." (There are times I want answers, though :-)

  3. Beautiful ... and then you went to seminary and were challenged by crazy ideas and people even MORE!



About Me

former pastor who is now a pastoral counselor and consultant (; married with two teenagers; progressive in my politics and theology