Confession: I do as much or more pastoral ministry now than I did when I worked in a church.
That is no knock on my friends in full-time vocational ministry.
It is more an affirmation for the myriad of people I know who have stepped out (or been pushed out) of their ministry job.
Leaving vocational ministry in a church for the great unknown is an identity crisis. These friends are left asking themselves, “Am I still a pastor?”
I went through the same thing 2 years ago. You are OK. You are still very much a pastor, even if your paycheck doesn’t come from a church.
I’m here to tell you this simple truth: When you are a pastor you are a pastor wherever you go. It’s a calling and not a vocation.
I opened this by saying that I do as much or more pastoral ministry now than I did while I worked at churches. So what does that look like?
- Removed of the stigma of “going to talk to my pastor” I give a great amount of pastoral counsel. Instead of people coming to my office for that we meet at coffee shops, my house, and even bars. (Gasp!)
- I love teaching at youth group. I don’t do it often enough to get into a groove… which keeps it from feeling like a grind.
- I totally miss filling the pulpit. At the same time I’ve learned that I probably preach too much and act too little. I have a lot more time to do ministry rather than prepare a message.
- We’ve rediscovered authentic relationships. When you work at a church your life is full of people who claim to be your friends– but it’s a positional thing. When you are a nobody in your congregation you have to develop friendships the old fashioned way. Better yet: When the positional ones come along you don’t feel obligated.
- I’m ministering to people in my life that are a part of my neighborhood, work life, adult small group, and students in my youth group.
- Straight talk, no B.S. (Stealing a line from a politician) That’s kind of how it feels. Free from the weirdness of people probing and constantly feeling like I’m answering every question on behalf of the church, I can just let it fly. Want to know what I think or what the Bible says? I don’t need a “church filter” anymore.
Conversely, when I was a vocational pastor I was constantly thinking to myself, “This is it? I rarely spend time with people. All I do is run programs. I want to be with people and do ministry!”
Interesting how freedom from the work of running a church has lead me to doing more pastoral ministry, right?
A global perspective for the naysayers
My fellow Americans, live in an ethnocentric culture. And American church culture is even more insular than American culture. Those of us who are in that culture have a very hard time seeing outside of it. So when I say things like “It’s a calling and not a vocation” most people in the church have no frame of reference. So while we’ve tied the concept of “I’m a pastor” with “I get paid to work at a church” we really get messed up when we no longer work for a church.
Two things to chew on…
Within Christianity: Outside of major Westernized countries almost no one who is a pastor does so vocationally. (Bi-vocational is the norm) In fact, the fastest spreading Christianity is spreading is absent of vocational staff and mostly without resources like buildings, Bibles, Bible study materials, etc. I’ve been pointing out the inverse relationship between church growth and church spending for months… but no one is lining up to cut their church budget/staff to see their church grow.
Other religions: Outside of the Christian church most religions are run by either volunteers or people who have taken vows of poverty, sustained only by the meager donations of people in their care. The Latter-day Saints are an excellent example of this. Very few people get paid within the Mormon church and yet it is one of the fastest growing religions in the world.