At the door on Sunday, someone said, “I’ve been a member here for 25 years. We’ve had so many pastors! What is it? Is it the building? Is it us? What is it with pastors leaving?” This was not a question that can be answered at the door on Sunday morning but it does deserve an answer.

Ironically, on Monday morning a former pastor of this church stopped in to see me (well, really he came to see the new building). He was elated at all the work this congregation has done on the building and parking area. Back then, he was urging them to install a wheel chair ramp. I showed him “his” ramp. It’s attached to a new wing. We are fortunate to have a fine facility. Believe me, it ain’t the building.

We chatted for some time as this predecessor spoke (fondly) the people of this church. The craft group was in the old kitchen and he spoke at length about some of his remembrances of them and their families. Financial secretary was working on Sunday’s offering and he chatted it up with them, too. We both remarked about how much we have enjoyed the people here. Believe me, it ain’t the people.

What is it?

I cannot answer the question for the other pastors who left. But I do know that any pastor worth his or her salt is constantly engaged in listening for what God is saying to the people. The people God speaks to includes us preacher types. For me, I am leaving because I believe God is calling me to a different place.

I am not leaving because I am frustrated with the people of this church. In every human endeavor, personality is part of the equation and so from time to time there are disagreements. Change never proceeds like you planned. Pastor’s know this as well as anyone. And, moving to a different place will not alleviate the occasional disagreement about direction, ministry, or the color of the curtains in the narthex. I am not leaving because I am frustrated.

More than one person has implied that it is about the money. I have told the ‘other church’ the same thing I told this church, that any pastor should be compensated within the guidelines of the denomination. Last year we initially reduced my Health Care provision, but that was reinstated, and I made the initial suggestion…not the congregation. My new call is a larger church, so the guidelines do range higher, but not as much as you might think. My present call has always been more than fair to me. My family and I have a very comfortable life and want for nothing. I am not leaving because of the money.

Another person said they were mad, that our ‘call’ system was unethical by inviting some pastors to submit their profile to other churches. I want you to remember that in every case (mine included) the pastor is in control of their profile at all times. I initiated the completion of my profile, and when asked, I directed the denomination staff to send it to another church. Nobody made me do anything.

I put my profile together because I had a growing sense that God was calling me to make a move. I asked for references to clarify my sense of ministry, to help me discern if that was true. The references were very supportive. No one said, “you should go.” Rather, it is my own reading between the lines of my life that has precipitated this feeling I refer to as God’s call. This feeling or impulse to move is called other things of course, restlessness, impatience even, but make no mistake about it; it wasn’t the congregation, so much as my own internal struggling with God’s call to me that moved me to send my profile to another church.

In retrospect, if I had realized this sooner, perhaps I should have resigned sooner, before I allowed another congregation to even see my profile. But I didn’t.

So the appropriate focus for whatever anger or frustration a church may have over a pastor’s departure should not be directed at the denomination, or at another church, as if the pastor was somehow ‘stolen.’ I am moving to another church because I believe I am being called to do so. It isn’t about you, it is about me.

Putting my nose in the scriptures, engaging in prayer, and serving alongside others puts me in touch with the Holy Spirit. It is this Spirit that calls everyone of us to the vocation of disciple and for some of us, as pastor. The where of our vocation is sometimes more nebulous, harder to verify and explain than the vocation itself because the what of ministry is pretty practical and in the midst of ‘real life.’

Many people like practical explanations, not ambiguous assignments of the movement of the Spirit. If it is more comfortable to my congregation to believe that the reason I am leaving is because I want to ‘better myself’ by going to a bigger church with more money, They can believe that. But they would be wrong.

The congregation I am leaving is a great congregation and an excellent setting for ministry. I hope they come to believe this, and believe that God is already working ahead of them, working on the heart of another pastor who will respond, “Here I am, send me.”

I am not yet ‘elected’ at the new place. Soon I’ll get even more clarity about the movement of the Spirit.

Someone stopped in to tell me, “we’re sorry to see you go, but we are glad for you.” Then, wait, the phone is ringing. I just got a call to baptize someone’s new baby…before my departure. Someone is moving on to stage three.

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