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? I see some of the more popular ones writing books about church and church restoration (2) If so, what is your advice for them?
To the first part, yes, many do contact me. But at the time of this blog post, the “celebrity” pastors who are writing about church issues haven’t.
Let me talk about the ones who have contacted me first.
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.
Emails from ex-pastors (and pastors) have only increased with the release of my signature work, INSURGENCE: Reclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom.
The pastors who have contacted me 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 celebrity “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.
The ones who are writing books on church and church restoration are trying to reinvent the wheel all on their own. And most of what they are writing is armchair philosophy.
Occasionally, someone will send me an article or video by (or about) one of these celebrity ex-pastors, not realizing that these ex-pastors are completely inaccessible, they’re trying to reinvent the wheel on their own without learning from those who are experientially ahead of them, and (in many cases) these ex-pastors have stolen material from others without giving them due credit.
Despite the good intentions of those sending me these articles and videos, I’ve raised a personal standard never to read or watch anything from (or about) an author/speaker who is inaccessible. Not until they first humble themselves. That brings me to the next point, where I will speak directly to such individuals.
(If you are wondering if a person is accessible, just try contacting them and getting a response from them directly.)
So in response to the second part of the above question, here is my advice to pastors who have stepped down from their positions — especially the celebrity pastors:
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. Reach out to those who have been preaching it for years.
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 — and it should be if you really belong to Jesus Christ — check out my article, My Visioin for a Ministry Dream Team. This article is for pastors as well as 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.