Many people probably didn’t notice, but for me, this past weekend at Mountainview was a special weekend. What made it special? The fact that it seemed to be a regular weekend is your first clue.
I have been in ministry for twenty-five years, not counting my four years of undergraduate education. In addition, I have been in and around churches my entire life. Counting Sunday evening services, I estimate I have been in approximately 4,000 regular worship assemblies. That’s a lot of communion.
On a personal level, I am friends with scores of pastors and ministers of all kinds. Nearly every week I am meeting or eating with a local pastor. Through prior work experiences as well as things such as blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, I’m literally connected to hundreds of other pastors on a regular basis.
You already know this, but I’m odd.
Not for all the (legitimate) reasons that come to mind, but for the fact that I’m still in vocational ministry after twenty-five years. Many of my friends who started out with me are no longer employed by a local church. Many of the guys I’ve had coffee with over the years are doing other things — having quit on their own or asked to leave.
Vocational ministry, unfortunately, can become a contact sport in the worst sense of the word.
Not all of them stopped loving Jesus, though one or two did.
Not all of them are bitter about being out of ministry. Like I said earlier, some left on their own and are doing well.
But for many of them, the idea of being a “former” pastor is much like being a former Marine — there’s no such thing. Just ask any retired Marine what it’s like being a former Marine and you’ll understand.
I’ve watched many of my former pastor friends struggle to find their way. It’s not easy making the transition. In fact, it’s quite hard. It’s hard to not be involved at the level of responsibility and authority you once were. It’s hard to reestablish your identity when it has been so defined by what you did, rather than who you are. It’s also hard on their spouses, who have often absorbed the ugliest of “Christian” behavior by the people who opposed their husband or his decisions.
Like it or not, it’s often hard for these families to attend a church as a “regular” member. I know that sounds strange, but put yourself in their shoes. Many of them have been in ministry long enough to not want to be “that” guy who functions as an armchair quarterback. Yet, they have a hard worshiping without also watching the details and looking for ways to improve or do better. In other words, it’s hard to just enjoy the moment.
(Think of it this way: If you owned a coffee shop, you would not be a regular customer at another coffee shop. You’d be examining the environment, noticing things behind the counter, etc. As opposed to the person behind you who just wants their coffee).
As a result, a good number of these former pastors float or drift. Likewise, many churches don’t know what to do with them. In fact, let’s be honest, some of the pastors of those churches feel threatened or insecure. I’ve been around enough to know that the armchair quarterback does exist — but it has been the rare exception in my own experience.
Rewind to this last weekend at Mountainview and why I felt it was a special weekend. We had two “former” pastors involved in the worship experience. I put former in quotations because neither one of them is really out of ministry, nor has a desire to be.
David Cox preached at all three of our services and Dave Douglas ran our sound board. David has been a church planter and pastor for nearly thirty-five years. Dave has been a worship pastor for about the same time. Both of these men have a wealth of experience with churches large and small and have worked with well-known pastors and churches. Both have been very encouraging of our ministry.
I do not take it for granted that these men and their families have felt comfortable at our church. In fact, I am honored that they would choose to worship and serve with us. I’m proud that Mountainview is a church that helps reclaim and restore pastors to ministry.
A special weekend indeed. One that I wish more churches could experience.