Someone recently asked me to weigh-in on pastors who leave their clergy positions. The last statistic I’ve seen on this score is that in the USA, 2,000 pastors leave the clergy system every month.
The question was in two parts: (1) “Frank, do pastors who step down from their positions ever contact you? (2) If so, what is your advice for them?
To the first part, yes. Since George Barna and I wrote Pagan Christianity — and I followed it up with the constructive sequels, Reimagining Church, From Eternity to Here, Finding Organic Church, and Jesus Manifesto (the volumes in my ReChurch Series) — countless pastors who have stepped down from their ministries have written me, asking for insight and advice. Especially those who are interested in the restoration of body life on this earth.
These pastors wanted to learn. They were humble in heart, eager to find answers. They were modest (and wise) enough to resist making the mistake of trying to re-invent the wheel by themselves.
One of them has ministered regularly on television. If I named him, most of you would know who he is. I tip my hat to that man for his humility and his accessibility. He’s not a celebrity, although he could be if he chose to. We’ve spoken by email and phone. And given his stature, I’m impressed that he’s so accessible. Accessibility is a mark of Jesus Christ.
Sadly, however, some “megachurch” pastors who have stepped down from their clergy positions remain inaccessible to this day. There’s simply no way for anyone to contact them. In addition, they are — for the most part — isolated from other servants of God. And some of them are trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the restoration of ekklesia life. A number of my readers have bemoaned the fact that there’s no way to write to them.
In response to the second part of the above question, here is my advice to pastors who have stepped down from their positions:
1) Make yourself accessible immediately. It’s standard fair for megachurch pastors to be inaccessible. But all this does is feed the cult of celebrity that’s poisoned the drinking water of Christianity today. Humble yourself and allow people to reach you by email and/or Facebook message and/or your blog or website.
The outstanding mark of celebrities is that they are inaccessible (try writing to Johnny Depp, for instance). When it comes to being a Christian celebrity, to quote Paul, “we have not so learned Jesus Christ.” So don’t make the profound mistake of thinking so highly of yourself that you rationalize reasons to make yourself impossible to reach because of your countless sycophants.
I once wrote John Travolta a letter, and he personally responded. And so did Val Kilmer (over email). Consequently, no matter how popular you think you are, “you’re no Jack Kennedy,” let alone a John Travolta or Val Kilmer.
2) Humble yourself a second time and seek out those who are ahead of you in the areas that you’re presently exploring. For instance, if you are someone who is interested in the restoration of body life, seek out those who have been in the trenches for decades and who know by hard-won experience the glories, the joys, the sorrows, the problems, the challenges, and the solutions associated with raising up the house of God the way it was done in the New Testament.
Observation: Ever since my first experience of body life in 1988, I’ve watched countless pastors leave their positions and try to duplicate the experience of body life bare-handed. In every case I’ve seen of this type, those individualistic endeavors failed. It eventually dawned on those ex-pastors that they unwittingly created a smaller version of what they had left. They then turned around and concluded, “It doesn’t work. I tried it myself, and I can tell you it’s unworkable.”
No Sir. You were trying to reinvent the wheel yourself. You never humbled yourself to learn from those who have pioneered in the field. That, dear friend, was your mistake.
But those of you who are reading this don’t have to repeat it.
3) Take time (a lot of it) to discover what God’s Eternal Purpose is. This is the heartbeat of your Lord, and it’s also the impulse, motivation, vision, and goal of all New Testament ministry. To miss this is to miss the grand intention of God and camp out near a tributary while missing the river.
By the way, don’t assume that because you’ve recited (or even memorized) the Westminster Confession that you grasp what God’s all-consuming, all-governing, all-inclusive purpose is. It’s far more grand, glorious, earth-shaking, cataclysmic, and practical than “glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.” So lower yourself and become a student of the Eternal Purpose.
4) Take a look at what I and others see coming in the next five years, and see if you resonate. This point is for both pastors and ex-pastors alike.
5) If your heart is wired for coworking, check out my audio entitled, A Ministry Dream Team. This point is also for pastors as well as for ex-pastors alike.
While I will shamelessly admit that I don’t have all the answers to the questions that ex-pastors ask me, I do have a great deal more to say about this subject based on years of experience and observation. But this is a start.
P.S. To those of you who are in the pastorate, there are no hints here. I wrote this article specifically to ex-pastors in response to a request.
P.S.S. If you’re an ex-pastor who is looking for resources and connection with other ex-pastors, there are a number of online sites dedicated to this. Among the more solid ones is ExPastors.org.