Another good title would be: Why leaving a ministry job might be saving their souls, and why you should stop talking about them.
[If you haven’t read the pontifications of church “experts” about why people are leaving ministry jobs, then you can if you’d like. There are so many opinions on the stats out there and I’ve grown tired of reading them (just Google about Barna stats and “the Great Resignation”).]
To the Church Experts,
I am saddened by how you are talking about people leaving ministry jobs (or thinking about leaving).
It reveals a great deal of ignorance.
It also displays a great deal of insecurity.
One of the main evidences of these things is that the way you talk is simply a guilt trip clothed in Biblical language or “Christianeze.”
STOP SPEAKING BEFORE LISTENING
There are 3 main things I wish you would take time to explore by listening to those “leaving” before speaking any further about them:
1. Most are becoming ministers in a new way. They are not “leaving” ministry.
Framing what’s happening as “leaving ministry” reveals an unfortunate ignorance of what ministry is, who is expected to be in ministry, and where the locus of ministry takes place.
That people say phrases like this in general is lamentable enough.
But then that you would apply them to someone who is leaving a job working for a ministry is detrimental.
When you do this, you have just communicated to others that “real ministry” is only what happens when those who are in leadership and/or work for the ministry are doing it.
And that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Too often I’ve seen you talk out of both sides of your mouth when it comes to this topic. You tell people to find their place in ministry generally, but then create a special category for those who are especially “qualified.”
As long as someone is following Jesus and living, they’re in ministry. It is just a question as to who they are in ministry to and with.
It’s a weird dynamic when “church experts” misunderstand, or simply contradict, their own teaching that everyone is a minister and we just have different roles within this thing called ministry.
A believer doesn’t leave ministry. They simply change contexts and roles.
For those who have left ministry jobs behind, they have not “left ministry.” And for you to say so as a supposed church expert only further reveals the ignorance that exists about what ministry is and who is “in ministry” among God’s people today.
2. Most are allowing their calling to be integrated into the rest of their lives. They are not “abandoning” a calling.
This is one point of contention that I am very passionate about.
There are two main issues I have with how people have been taught to understand calling (and they’re related): 1) too many people confuse their calling with their identity, and 2) too many never integrate their calling with the rest of their lives.
It’s ironic that these two issues seem divergent and yet are not in the least.
Your calling is not who you are.
Who you are is foundational. Your calling builds upon that.
And if you haven’t dealt with that, then your calling becomes the tail wagging the dog. And it creates all sorts of confusion and pain.
It also typically means you’ve separated out your calling from the rest of your life.
A whole person who starts with the foundation of who they are being the most important thing to God, is then fully capable of understanding their calling as an integrated part of their life.
People aren’t “called to ministry” as separate from “called to their family.” These aren’t competing values for someone who correctly understands and lives into what God is calling them to. They are one and the same.
And so, just like the last point, when understood correctly, someone is not actually abandoning a calling. They might stop living out that calling in a certain way. But the calling isn’t gone.
They may have misunderstood it, confused it with their identity, or separated it out from their entire life. But they haven’t abandoned it.
The pain caused by how you “church experts” are misspeaking about the concept of calling is causing trauma upon trauma upon trauma in most people’s lives who are leaving a ministry job.
When you tell them they have abandoned their calling, it only retraumatizes them or causes them new trauma to the already difficult circumstances of changing careers.
The pain that’s being caused by your words when you actually think you’re helping is heartbreaking.
3. Most are courageously following Jesus by doing what they’ve challenged others to do for years: to live out their faith in a non-Christian workplace and community.
The absolute craziest part of the confusion you’re causing as “church experts” in this conversation is the fact that when someone leaves a ministry job and becomes a person following Jesus out in the workforce, they become the very thing you continually give lip service to being the most important thing a Christian can be: a missionary.
The person leaving a ministry job is simply following to its logical conclusion the single most important theological belief we hold to as Christians: incarnation.
They are locating themselves, with all the skills they’ve developed to care for people (pastor), to convey truths in relevant ways (teacher), to walk with someone thru coming to know Jesus (evangelist), to speak in love the mysteries of God (prophet), and to do it among people who may never come to know God unless someone goes to where they are (apostle).
They’re literally embodying out in the world the entirety of the gifts God has given to the Church by making the very decision you are now critiquing them for making.
This is not only confusing to the person going thru it [who feels like they’re actually doing what the Gospel compels them to do like every other Christian in the world], but it is also confusing to every other Christian who has been told to live as a missionary out in the world yet are watching the person leaving a ministry job being shamed for becoming a missionary.
The way you “church experts” have spoken about those leaving (or thinking about leaving) has created such a convoluted context for this conversation that it’s nearly impossible to even have it anymore.
It’s angering if I’m honest.
I have sympathy for you as you’re trying to do your best to wrestle with something you were wrongly taught, but unfortunately you are now becoming the one wrongly teaching it.
STOP KICKING THEM WHILE THEY ARE DOWN
All of this doesn’t even get into the emotional and spiritual damage that’s being done to people “on their way out.”
You “church experts” consistently lament how difficult it is to be in ministry, how ministry leaders get wrongly critiqued by others, and how people need to support ministry leaders during these difficult times…
But then you turn around and kick them while they’re down…and that shouldn’t be lost on anyone.
It’s “church-culture acceptable” spiritual abuse honestly. And I won’t refrain from calling it that.
I’ve been the recipient of it. And I will not remain silent on behalf of those who have made such a difficult decision to only be abused in the process.
STOP DE-PERSONALIZING WHAT IS HAPPENING
I’m in ongoing conversations with at least a dozen people who have left ministry jobs over the last 2 years. Each of them have left for varying reasons. To lump them all together as a statistic would be to miss what is actually happening in this moment in the Church in America.
Each story of those I speak with are as uniquely beautiful and complicatedly gut-wrenching as the next.
And you’ve missed the whole point of the Gospel if you don’t treat them as such.
If instead you just lob your opinion out there as a grenade, with no awareness of the damage you’re doing, then you are no church expert to begin with. And why people are giving you a platform as if you are one is beyond my comprehension.
The church should not simply be an organization that provides a severance package on the way out.
It should be a family that says “we will see you at the next reunion.”
This depersonalizing of people’s stories of why they are leaving ministry jobs is disheartening. And for those of you perpetuating these kinds of conversations, I beg you to stop.
You are not being Christ in their lives in this moment.
You are instead being a Pharisee that is heaping burdens upon them.
[Side note: most of what I’ve said in this blog post could also be applied to how too many established church pastors are talking about church members who have “left.” The guilt trips laced with Biblical language. The spiritual abuse of kicking them while they’re down. I’ve seen all of it the last couple years and it’s sickening.]
And for those who are reading this who have left or are considering leaving a ministry job, here’s a prayer I offer you during such a difficult season:
Be kind to Your little children, Lord; that is what we ask of You as their Tutor, You the Father, Israel’s guide; Son, yes, but Father as well. Grant that by doing what You told us to do, we may achieve a faithful likeness to the Image and, as far as is possible for us, may find in You a good God and a lenient Judge.
May we all live in the peace that comes from You. May we journey towards Your city, sailing through the waters of sin untouched by the waves, borne tranquilly along by the Holy Spirit, Your Wisdom beyond all telling. Night and day until the last day of all, may our praises give You thanks, our thanksgiving praise You: You who alone are both Father and Son, Son and Father, the Son who is our Tutor and our Teacher, together with the Holy Spirit.
– St Clement of Alexandria, 150–215 AD