Why I resigned my pastorate
We take the unusual step of printing this article anonymously to avoid identification of either church or pastor and to concentrate rather on the lessons and principles with which it is replete.
The last few months have been exceedingly difficult for my family and me. The difficulties culminated in my resignation from a church where I served as pastor for almost twenty years. During those years the church more than doubled in attendance and in membership, and reached a wide audience through radio and various publications.
Problems began to surface when the church called my son to serve as the ‘Youth Minister’. The changes he desired to make in that ministry – which would have made the youth programme far more biblical and substantial – were resisted from the beginning.
But the youth ministry was only one of the problems. Many in the church had come to desire a far more casual and laid-back approach to worship and resented my more traditional approach – despite the fact that when I came the church body voted to give me freedom to develop the worship services as I saw fit.
Some also resented my way of handling the business meetings of the church – a style that deliberately didn’t leave much room for free-wheeling and shooting from the hip!
To my dismay, I also learned that other staff members, whom I had assumed were loyal, had for a long time been listening to critical remarks from church members and had been chiming in with their own.
Then my doctrine became an issue, even though I have not changed doctrinally from the time I arrived. People began to chafe under my ‘Calvinism’, accusing me of things that relate to hyper-Calvinism rather than true biblical Calvinism.
The great irony in all of this is that this church was started forty years ago by a group of people who were tired of seeing pastors abused in the church where they were. Another irony is that the founding members of my church were primarily Calvinists!
Flood of emotions
I did not expect my resignation to create within me the flood of emotions that I have experienced. Tears have come in abundance as I have battled grief, embarrassment, depression, and, yes, some bitterness. Although I always have plenty of work to do, I have spent day after day simply sitting in my easy chair and staring blankly at the floor or the wall.
Have I been a perfect pastor? Not by a long shot! But I have faithfully preached the gospel and ministered to the flock. I have been in hospital rooms, often in the middle of the night, with my flock, including many of my harshest critics. I have baptised and married their children. I have buried their loved ones. I have counselled them in times of stress. I have also given myself to the work, often putting in sixty or seventy hours a week.
The deep sorrow created by this experience has given me time to think about that time when I will retire from pastoral ministry altogether and assume the role of an ordinary church member. As I approach my sixtieth birthday, I realise that this time will come soon enough.
With that in view, I offer this list of resolutions.
I will attend a church which has a Bible-preaching, Christ-centred pastor. No, I am not so ‘burnt-out’ and bitter that I can walk away from the church. I believe in her and am committed to her. I agree with the words of this poem:
She found you far from your rightful place,
Blind to truth and stained by disgrace.
She loved you though your sin was rife,
And kindly spoke to you words of eternal life.
Since then she has nurtured thee and thine
On solid Bible meat and good gospel wine.
She has constantly called you away from lesser
And bidden you to faithfully serve the King of Kings.
Oft’times midst life’s fevered pace,
She did your weary soul embrace;
And when under the crushing load you did bow,
She reached out to soothe your furrowed brow.
When your sorrow did multiply and abound,
She did you and yours with prayers surround.
She has gladly your cares and burdens owned,
And made you know that you were not alone.
She is the church of the living Lord,
Created by his Spirit and his Word.
Object of my Saviour’s devotion is she,
Object of my devotion she shall be.
I will remember that it doesn’t take many to destroy a church. The hostile minority becomes a majority when the majority refuse to stand against the minority. When my pastor is under attack by a minority, I will seek to persuade the majority to stand with him and for him.
I will support my pastor with my attendance and my prayers.
I will try to remember how very difficult the work of the pastor is. The pastorate takes huge chunks of time and effort. The truth is that many pastors could make a lot more money and have far fewer headaches by working in the secular world. I will seek to honour the man who has honoured God by answering his call to ministry.
I will always speak highly of my pastor.
I will refuse to listen to criticism of my pastor, remembering that merely listening implies consent.
I will remember to have toward my church a sense of stewardship rather than a sense of ownership.
I will not put friendship above leadership. Many of the problems I experienced in my pastorate came from people who were more committed to supporting their friends or family than they were to supporting the pastor. You know how it works. If my friend is opposed to the pastor, whether legitimately or not, I must also be opposed to the pastor!
I will not assume that other church staff members are supporting the pastor.
I will remember that people tend to serve the institution instead of the purpose of the institution. Many of the problems in our churches are due to people being interested in the church as an organisation and wanting the organisation to function in the way that pleases them. Such people have lost sight of the fact that the church exists to serve the gospel. If the pastor is accurately and faithfully declaring the gospel of Christ, he is doing the very best thing for us that he can do. What does it matter if he doesn’t administer the organisation in the way we think best? The gospel is the main thing!
I will be watchful for pastors who have been abused by church members and will seek in some way to minister to them. I have been touched and moved by fellow-pastors who have called or written to offer their support. But the number has been relatively small and no fellow-believer has actually prayed with me.
If I find that I cannot support the pastor, I will leave that church and go to one where I can do so – and I will leave in such a way that I will not cause pain or grief to the pastor.
I will keep these commitments in a place where I can frequently see them and be reminded of them.
I am now blessed to be serving as the pastor of a small church, where the preaching of the Word and the preacher of the Word are highly esteemed. I am thankful to our sovereign God for bringing me through a bruising time and putting me in this good place.