why I stopped pastoring
Even though I was blogging when I stopped pastoring, I had not gone on record to explore and unpack why I quit that high calling. The year I stopped was a dark year, a lot of my life didn’t make sense during that transition. I’m asked that question often enough, so now that I’ve been a regular citizen as long as I’ve been clergy, I’m starting to gain perspective on what all of that was about.
Oh, I wish I could be a pastor! I spent a decade of my life trying, dedicating myself to serious studies at a seminary, praying and doing spiritual disciplines, even working as a pastor for over 5 years. I believed I was called to go to seminary– a Bible verse urged me on: for the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. I started by faith, and I continued by faith, but blind faith could only last so long.
I knew going in that it’d be hard work. I knew it’d be a sacrifice. I believe I did some good during my pastoring years, and I had good feedback from people I pastored, and how they appreciated my ministry. I still do get some good comments from people when I accept an occasional speaking/preaching invite.
But I didn’t feel it any more. I don’t feel it. That’s not a good place to be if I’m doing something that directly impacts people like pastoring. I’m discovering that pastoral ministry is a lot more about passion and enthusiasm, not so much the delivery of content through preaching or teaching.
I didn’t have the faith to be a pastor who’d have be the preacher and teacher who had to have the answer or who had to be the role model. The work of the faith worker has to be a fairly good grasp on conviction, inspiration, motivation, passion, and discipline. I didn’t say a perfect grasp, but more often than not, perseverance of the faith worker is called for. I don’t have much of that. This isn’t to say that I didn’t minister the Word out of good faith, it just wasn’t enough to last me for the long haul. I still do believe, just not enough to believe that I should be the vocational pastor.
Ministry is supposed to be all about people. That part attracted me, because I like people, all kinds of people. But that doesn’t mean pastoring was the best thing for me to do for them. 3 things that surprised me: some ministers love tasks more than people, most people don’t have theological inquiries, and most people change very slowly.
All those years of theological training sits in dusty boxes because most people don’t ask the questions that got answered in seminary. People ask practical everyday questions about life, for which theological answers undergird a wisdom, perspective, and discernment, but the pastoral role of translating abstract metaphysical ideas into pragmatic realities was not something I had a knack for. Some people call it common sense; and, where in the world do you learn that?
To this day I still don’t have a strong sense of what my spiritual gifts are. I do have a wide set of skills, but underneath it all, I use my skills to help others. I don’t have certain things that I just love to do, be it teaching, preaching, counseling, or administrating. I’m spiritually motivated mostly to be a helper, a companion. Other roles and responsibilities put me out on a limb, where I risk losing my grip.
In hindsight, I’m realizing that having a good job fit is important for me to honor and accept the way God has made me. I’ve wrestled for years with trying to get what I wish I could do (desires) and what I’m actually good at doing (gifting) and what I love to do (affinities) to align. I realize now that I need to be doing work that changes quickly and regularly, or I get lulled into a routine boredom. My best 3 action verbs for what I do: researching, networking, and writing.
Some people are blessed (or cursed) with knowing what they’ve wanted to do with their life since they were 12 years old. I’m not one of them.
So my journey of figuring out what to do with my life and for my work is one step at a time. I’m not bitter for having pastored. I didn’t burn out. I didn’t revolt with a moral failure. I don’t have any regrets. And, life goes on.
Would I ever pastor again? Not likely. The probability is very low, for it’d have to be a church that’s constantly changing and innovating. And, unfortunately, I don’t have the gift mix, drive, or faith to be launching a new church plant (that’d fit me), even though Bob Hyatt thinks (almost) anyone could plant a church.
What’s exciting about the next season of my life is that I’ll be doing something I enjoy, something I’m good at, something that makes Kingdom impact. Sovereignly somehow, all of my career wanderings are beginning to have a semblence of convergence. Finally, at age 40, it’s about time.
thank you for sharing your heart with us, dj.
I suspect that many vocational pastors will read what you share and will resonate strongly with it.
I wish you the best in your new endeavor. In life, it’s just as important to know what you’re not called to. Do you think that your initial desire for pastoring was possibly spurred on by a low view of “secular” work? I find many very godly zealous Christians have trouble connecting the dots between their vibrant faith and the marketplace application. It’s the reason I started my blog –
The Lord bless you.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts DJ… excellent stuff. All the best going forward…
All those years of theological training sits in dusty boxes because most people don
Ever since I met you I sort of wondered what your story was in this regard. Thanks for sharing. I think your calling is perhaps as diverse as your desire to do diverse things. Be encouraged. By the way, I have met people who were stuck in the pastorate. I think there are a lot of people in the ministry and manage it like a dead end job, like having to be a manager at McDonalds. What a shame! I’m glad you did not stick it out just because of expectations from others. On the other hand, I’m sort of in my job right now (30% of the reason) because of the expectations of others. I’ve heard that most people stay in the job they are in because of skill sets they possess don’t allow them to move. God has blessed you with some diverse skills.
Andre, yes, I’ll confess that having a low view of “secular” work was a factor in my desiring to do “sacred” work. That partly comes from my own desires to do things to be accepted with God (as we all do, each with our own way), and it also comes from how preaching/teaching is done by many (most?) preachers and pastors. I think you’ve heard it as often as I have at missions conferences and such, for us to lay down our personal desires and to value eternal things, to be more active in evangelism and discipleship, etc. I don’t recall having heard good and clear teaching about discerning God’s personal calling, and how career choices fit into the Kingdom of God.
Ariel, great thoughts about Creative Theology! Many (most?) of our institutions like churches and seminaries are great at prescribing information and content, but developing people who can think for themselves, that’s very difficult indeed. But, so much more valuable!
hey dj – long time reader first time caller. I enjoyed reading your post. I’ve been on a good, steady, model-minority career path for a little over 6 years now, and after about 9 years of mulling over whether or not I should go, I’ve finally taken the plunge and will be enrolling in seminary next fall. Your post articulates a lot of my fears about making this drastic “career” change. But should I realize later that maybe these perceived desires, affinities, and gifts were for something else, I’ll at least be able to say that I don’t have any regrets.
Hey Dj – thanks for your sharing. It’s great to hear the experiences of people especially as I start seminary. God will continually use you to reach out to people . . .
I love my husband because he is who he is, and he’s never faked trying to fit into something he’s not. One of the best pieces of advice I got while dating Dj when he was in seminary was “don’t marry someone for what he does, but for who he is.” Sounds pretty obvious, but there are a lot of people (women) who marry a “godly spiritual man” because he is destined to be in the ministry. The relationship becomes based on “the calling” and the doing as a result. I also have no regrets for going through the pastorate years, and for BOTH of us to emerge on the other side realizing our gifts can be expressed in a broader bandwidth than the vocational pastorate allows. I am proud of Dj for going to the next level.
don’t forget me when you are on the next level…
I for one know that i have a pastoral gift, but I would not say that I persevere more than anyone else. I think pastoring is not so much caring for people, but rather, seeing God’s gifts in them and equipping people for the work of the ministry (somewhere in Ephesians 4). Now I obviously cannot say what your gifts are, but I can say that I have really appreciated your blog. It is folks like you who make Christianity seem very real and true.
Appreciate your honesty in you rpost. Personally, I think the whole “clergy/laity” divide has done more harm than good. I’d be curious as to your reaction to this article by a former pastor:
The Urgent Need For Reformation in Pastoral Ministry
I’m a first time commenter, but an occasional browser (fan) to your site. Thanks so much for sharing your views. As of right now, God has allowed me to counsel, pray, and preach to others in the marketplace. It is truly inspirational to see others in the work place to know more (desire) about God. I ponder the idea to go to seminary. Although I have taken seminary coursework and I’m deeply involved with my home church, I am still uncertain where God wants to take me. Sometimes I waver about what He wants for my life. After reading this, I’ve decided to wait on the Lord no matter how long it takes and enjoy the ride. I may not go to seminary. That’s really okay.
Also, I’m an Asian American male so it helps to hear about a brother with similar perspective and interests.
God bless you and your ministry wherever God takes it.
dj, this blog made an indelible impression on me. I wrote about my reaction to your blog on my blog. Please visit, and feel free to comment.
I really liked this post b/c it resonates with me. If anything, ministering as a youth pastor, worship pastor, and now teaching/small groups paster has taught me more about my giftings. I can DO any of those things, but what my pastor challenged me to think about was where my passion was. I’d have to say that it is also in networking, but also in worship and leadership (according to Wagner’s Finding Your Spiritual Gifts, I’m a shepherd, teacher, and prophet – haha)…
But that’s why I’ll be stepping down from my ministry at the end of this month – to pursue these passions further. After some evaluation, I’ve realized that what I’d like to accomplish – uniting and networking the 2nd Gen Church – can really only be done (at this particular time) outside of church ministry and only in a conference type of setting.
I appreciate your honesty. I wish I had read this before I went to seminary. Not because I regret going (I don’t regret it, btw), but so that I would have a greater understanding of what was to be expected in ministry. I’m actually not much of a task person, myself – I am more relational, but I guess the difference is that I’ve always worked greater at building intimacy in a small setting, rather than a large setting. I think that’s why leadership (development) has always been one of my strengths. In terms of the tasks… I’m more of an idea person and don’t like the tasks as much… especially the tasks of a full-time “senior” pastor. In my last year of seminary, we did practical classes in doing weddings and… funerals… and that’s when I realized that maybe I can’t do it. Had I read this before, I wouldn’t have had to wait 2.5 years to figure that out!
Anyway, THAT’s more like a bio, eh?