Posts Tagged ‘life after pastoral termination’

I once had a friend who was both a lawyer and a pastor.

He started out as a pastor … became a lawyer … and then returned to pastoring.

A prominent Christian leader criticized my friend when he went into law because, he said, “When God calls a man to ministry, he calls him for life.”

Does this mean that a pastor should stay in ministry until death?

When I pastored a church in Silicon Valley, a pastor in my city dropped dead of a heart attack … while preaching.

John the Baptist died at a young age because of his preaching.

Is that what God desires?  For a man God has called to take his last breath while serving Him?

Billy Graham has famously said that he can’t find a retirement age in the Bible, and yet even Dr. Graham (who is 99 years old) finally retired from preaching a few years ago.

I served eight local churches as a youth pastor, teaching pastor, associate pastor, solo pastor, and senior pastor over a period of 36 years.

My ministry began at age 19 when I worked with youth for the summer at my home church.

The Lord gave me many good years of ministry … but some years were rough.

I wanted to quit at age 32 … but I kept going.

I wanted to quit again at age 35 … but I kept going.

I wanted to quit again at age 44 … but I kept going.

And then the Lord “retired” me at age 56 when I was pushed out of my last and most productive ministry.

It’s been more than eight years since I preached my last sermon as a senior pastor.  Even though I wanted to retire … or die … as a pastor, I realize that I will never pastor a church again.

Why not?

Let me give you five reasons … and I’m going to be brutally honest:

First, I am the wrong age.

Most churches are looking for a pastor between the ages of 30 and 50.  My guess is that the ideal age range is 35 to 45.

Due to exhaustion, I searched for another ministry when I was 44.  One of my mentors told me, “You’ll find a church.  You’re at a good age.”

And he was right.  About a month after putting out my resume, I had an interview with a church in Illinois that really wanted me to be their pastor, although I turned them down.

My credentials didn’t seem to be as important as my age.

In my next and final pastorate, I added to my credentials:

*I earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Seminary.

*I pastored the largest Protestant church in our city, averaging 466 in 2008.  (In our part of the Bay Area, that was like a megachurch.)

*Our church grew numerically and had a great reputation throughout the community.

*We built a new worship center.

*We had a staff as large as eleven at one time.

After I left my last church, I applied for several church positions at age 57.

*A church of 100 people rejected me for a solo pastor position within two weeks.

*A slightly larger church was looking for an associate pastor.  They turned me down in five days.

I was probably overqualified for both positions, but my age worked against me.

When a pastor doesn’t have a church, and he’s in his late fifties or early sixties, the best option for him is to become an interim pastor.

Because unless you start a church, almost nobody is going to hire you … unless you are willing to go to the East Coast … where they sometimes lack qualified candidates.

When I realized the reality of the age thing, I decided to look for a position in an older congregation … one in which an experienced 57-year old pastor might seem young.

I found such a church … in Arizona.  They were looking for an associate pastor to do outreach … right up my alley … in a church full of seniors.  I quickly made the top three candidates, but pulled out when they were going to have a beauty contest … bringing all three candidates and their wives to the church over successive weekends.

Besides, they wouldn’t tell me their salary range.

When I sent an email explaining why I was dropping out, I never heard from them again.

Thank God I didn’t end up there.

Second, I can’t put my wife through another church.

My wife Kim served alongside me in every church I pastored.  She was a camp counselor … a youth leader … the Sunday School Superintendent … you name it, she did it.

She became adept at starting ministries … recruiting and training leaders … and then handing a ministry off to them while she started another one.

In our last church, Kim served as our outreach and missions director for eight years.  She made the church go.

BFCC Fall Fun Fest 2008 120

But when she was attacked as a way of attacking me, she suffered greatly … and was diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome.

If anyone wants to know what Kim went through, we’re very free and open about it … in person … but I won’t describe the pain she experienced either in writing or online.

Being the trooper that she is, Kim would probably support me if a church called me to be their pastor, but I can’t put her through it again.

I believe that my marriage vows supersede my ordination vows … that God calls people to ministry for a season, but that marriage is for life.

I agree wholeheartedly with the words of Proverbs 5:18:

May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.

And I do.


Third, I couldn’t afford it financially.

I spent many months trying to find a job in the Christian community:

*I applied for the three church positions described above, but nothing worked out.

*I filled out a 13-page application for a major denomination but never heard from them again.

*I spent hundreds of dollars and invested scores of hours training to become a certified church consultant … only to discover that almost nobody became one.  (In my state, out of 34 people who had completed the training, only one had become a certified consultant.)

*I made some contacts with a group of 20 men who did interim pastoring.  I was fully vetted but nothing opened up … and then was told that I would have to pay 50 dollars every week for a one-hour coaching session via the telephone.  (Then I found out that whenever a position opened up, one of the 20 “good old boys” got it instead.  I was number 21 … the odd man out.)

*I applied for an interim position at a church in the mountains.  They called me to preach and the time went so well that a prominent leader told me I had the job.  But because I didn’t want to live in the mountains, they hired someone else.  (The position paid very little.)

*I finally received training from Interim Pastor Ministries and was immediately assigned to a church in New Hampshire.  It was a very loving, outreach-oriented church, and we’re still friends with some of the people five years later.  But my next interim assignment just wouldn’t open up.

*My director asked me if I was willing to go to churches in Louisiana … Canada … South Dakota … or upstate New York.  I finally ended up flying to a church back east, but it was such a mess that I couldn’t envision doing church ministry anymore.

*I spent three hours being grilled by a bunch of lay leaders at another church that was looking for an interim pastor.  They went with someone else as well.

*While I was trying to find a ministry position, my wife heard about a search for a children’s director at the church where I was baptized as a boy.  We visited there one Sunday and then she applied for the position.  Four months later, she finally emerged as a top candidate.  While we were in New Hampshire, the church flew her out to California for three days of intense scrutiny.  The executive pastor assured Kim that she would be hired before she left, but then wrote her and said that because their senior pastor had just resigned, they weren’t going to hire anyone.

The entire time these events were happening, we were living off the funds from my retirement account.

But as the account dwindled, I realized that if I kept applying for Christian jobs, I would probably end up with no job … and no money.

Through a series of divine events, my wife sensed God calling her to start a preschool in our house.  We began in a rented house in August 2013 and bought a house last April.  The preschool is on the first floor while we live upstairs.  It’s a full-time job for both of us but God has blessed us financially.


When I was a young man, the hiring process in churches and Christian organizations was much simpler and quicker.  It now takes many months to hire someone.

Forgive me if I don’t want to do it anymore.

Fourth, our grandsons trump everything else.

This is our son Ryan with his wife Vanessa.  They have three boys: Jack (far right), Liam (far left), and Henry (middle).



If I became a pastor again, I’d probably have to move away and wouldn’t be able to see them.

But when you become a grandparent, you understand this simple rule:

Grandchildren trump everything … for me, even church ministry.

Finally, my soul is one conflict away from devastation.

In early 2013, after spending five days at a church back east that was considering me as an interim pastor, I spoke with my ministry mentor.

I quickly told him what had occurred during those days:

*One man … who owned five fast-food restaurants … ran the church.

*The church had a school next door … and the school held great power over the church.

*The church office was located inside the parsonage … and the basement was so trashed and spooky that I’m convinced there were dead bodies down there.

*One man came up to me and kept hitting me on the arm … hard.  I don’t know why.

*One older leader criticized me severely behind my back.  I later found out that he wanted to become the interim pastor.

*The church’s associate had been touching women and girls inappropriately for a long time … and nobody said anything … until he touched a young teenage girl … who did say something.  The pastor knew about the associate’s behavior and did nothing.

*After the associate left, the pastor asked for a vote of confidence … and was voted out.

That was the church that wanted me to come as interim pastor.

When I told my mentor about it, he said, “Jim, if you and Kim go to that church, it will permanently damage your souls.”

I can’t pastor another church because almost every congregation has one or more dysfunctional church bullies … and if I meet just one more of them, I can’t predict how I’ll react.

So rather than ending up in jail … or the funny farm … or some cult … I’d prefer to keep my soul intact and leave the pastoring to others.

Life has a way of chipping at our souls, but ministry does as well.  To become successful in ministry, a pastor has to become a change agent, and the change process inevitably results in personal attacks against the pastor and his family.

And I’ve had enough.

I’m grateful for the 36 years of ministry God gave me, and I wish I could have served as a pastor until the Lord took me home … or allowed me to retire gracefully.

But I have learned that His plan for me now is to support my wife … play with my grandchildren … do some writing … attend our local church … root for the Giants … and stay as far away from dysfunctional church people as possible.

And I’m having a marvelous time doing those things!

















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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.

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