Since I left church ministry more than four years ago, I’ve had some good days and some bad days.
Mondays through Saturdays tend to be good days. Sunday afternoons and evenings are good, too.
But Sunday mornings are rough.
Because Sunday mornings used to be the highlight of my week. All my thoughts, energies, and prayers culminated in those two worship services, when I would stand before God’s people and bring them God’s Word.
I lived for Sunday mornings.
But now, Sunday mornings don’t seem so exciting … and like many pastors, I wonder:
Is there life after church ministry?
That’s what many ex-pastors want to know … whether or not they deserved being pushed out of church ministry.
I’ve written extensively on this topic, especially in my book Church Coup: A Cautionary Tale of Congregational Conflict.
Let me share four quick thoughts on this topic:
First, God retires many pastors from church ministry before they’re ready.
Neil Diamond once issued an album called Tap Root Manuscript. There was a song on there called “Done Too Soon.”
After recounting the names of a host of famous people like Jesus Christ, Mozart, Genghis Khan and Buster Keaton, Diamond sang:
And each one lived, there’s one thing shared
They have sweated beneath the same sun
Looked up in wonder at the same moon
And wept when it was all done
For being done too soon
For being done too soon
Most pastors who have experienced a forced exit thought they would retire from church ministry around age 65 … on their terms … rather than much earlier … on someone else’s terms.
Their careers were definitely “done too soon.”
But as I look back on my situation more than 50 months later, I see that God retired me from church ministry because of His grace … and it takes a long time to accept that.
Jesus had to accept that His ministry was “done too soon” after only 3 years.
But this truth doesn’t mean that God is done with ex-pastors because:
Second, God has moved many ex-pastors into kingdom work.
Who is better qualified to do kingdom work than former pastors?
I have a friend who does conflict mediation for churches … and he went through pastoral termination three times.
I have another friend who trains Christian leaders worldwide … and he went through termination twice.
The list of pastors who were pushed out of their churches includes Jonathan Edwards … Billy Graham … and many well-known leaders and authors whose ministries have become much broader than a local church.
In fact, I’ve learned that most ex-pastors involved in kingdom work went through one or more forced exits … and that God had to fling them out of the church first.
Fourteen years ago, I took a doctoral class at Fuller Seminary taught by Dr. Bob Logan. During every lunch period, Dr. Logan met with several students and asked us what we wanted to do after we received our doctorate.
I told him that I wanted to minister to pastors and churches that were going through conflict. (Privately, I also wanted to write.)
There was no known pathway to turn my dreams into reality. I planned to be a pastor until retirement and then think about conflict ministry … but God had other plans … and I’m glad He did.
Because every time a pastor calls me on the phone or a church leader sends me an email, I say to God, “Thank you, Lord, for calling me to this important work.”
Third, God takes care of His children … especially former pastors.
About 2/3 of the time I served as a pastor, I enjoyed a secure income with benefits.
My wife and I didn’t worry about medical bills … having the money for vacations … or saving money.
But when you suddenly find yourself out of your career field, you have to start practicing all those sermons you gave about “trusting God.”
Over the past 4+ years since leaving church ministry, my wife and I haven’t gone into debt and we’ve met all our obligations.
Sometimes the Lord has provided us with unexpected gifts. Other times, He’s reduced expenses that we assumed were fixed.
While our income isn’t close to what it was five years ago, God has consistently provided for us, and for that, we praise Him!
The Lord knows how to take care of His servants.
Finally, God rearranges your priorities when you’re away from the church.
When I was a pastor, I wanted my priorities to look like this:
But all too often, my priorities really looked like this:
When you’re a pastor, the local church assumes a double identity: it’s both the source of your friendships and the source of your income.
And all too often, it creeps into first place on your priority list.
In fact, there were many times when I missed a family event because it seemed like I was married to my church.
But when you’re no longer a pastor, it’s natural for your priorities to look like this:
And that can be a very good – and healing – thing.
If you know a pastor who has experienced forced termination, you can encourage him in two primary ways:
*Pray for God to use him mightily again … and to meet all his financial needs.
*Keep in regular contact with him. (When people stop contacting you, you assume that they’ve turned on you.)
And if you are a pastor who has experienced forced termination, remember this adage I learned from my mentor Charles Chandler:
They can take your job, but they can’t take your calling.