Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I'm Not Dead Yet, Am I?

So, a professional colleague and friend called me yesterday wanting to know how I was doing. He had heard that I had resigned from the pastorate. I think he wanted the scoop. That is fine and good, but I have learned something interesting in many many such conversations over the last month.

Many people who have talked to me about my resignation seem to view leaving the pastoral ministry as like a death, and thus they talk about it as they would talk at a funeral - quietly, slowly, reverently, heavily, and sadly. I suppose every change is a kind of death. But I don't think that if I had gone from being a CPA to selling organic food at the Farmer's Market that people would have the same view.

It seems out of keeping with Reformed Theology that recognizes the fundamental dignity and significance of each kind of vocation and work. I have never for a moment believed that my work as a pastor was of greater significance than another person's work as a teacher or a businesswoman or brick mason. Likewise, if someone who had been teaching school for a long time decided to go into business instead I don't think I'd miss a beat, even if life changes contributed to the move.

Speaking of teachers, I remember back when I taught high school running into students at the grocery store. They would look at me with some confusion of mind as if to say "He eats?" "Yeah I eat, and I poop too." So there.

Which reminds me to be patient. If almost-adult students had a hard time seeing me apart from my "teacher" mantle or mode, then it's no wonder that people who have known me for 20 years as a pastor would have the same challenge seeing me apart from my "pastor" mantle or mode. Not all do, but many do, maybe most.

Perhaps in some deeper way all along, this very issue has made me a somewhat reluctant pastor. Perhaps I always chaffed at the difficulty of being seen as just a person, flawed and with feet of clay, with lot of things that interest me other than the Bible. I'm thinking lately that this very issue has been worming around in me for years.

I remember back when I was coaching a softball team there was a guy - one of the kid's parents - who often helped out with practices. We talked a lot. He was a very smart and funny guy, and laced his speech with certain profanities that added a kind of salt and spice to what he said. He was a good cusser.

I never ever ask people what they do for a living, but eventually he asked me. "Great," I thought, "there goes the relationship." I told him I was a pastor. I'm not sure he knew what I meant at first. He wasn't southern and so he didn't think "preacher." "You mean like a priest?" he asked. "Sort of," I answered.

Now this has happened several times with me, and almost always people start acting and speaking really differently. I've always hated that. I pray, "Lord, please don't let them ask me THAT question." But in this case he did ask, and, after my answer, he paused a moment as if to think about it, and then said something like "#*%&*, I wouldn't have thought." I loved that guy.

So, for real, I'm not dead, my faith isn't dead, and well, my vocational life isn't dead, as in, "Oh now that I have fallen from my calling I have to do SOMETHING (inherently insignificant) to make money."

Well, I do, have to make money that is. A lot. And so I continue to look and pray for a nice big regular job. And in the mean time, God is providing several smaller jobs, including a tutoring gig starting tomorrow. (I've always liked tutoring - science, math, composition, etc. So call me....) I was thinking today as I hobbled down Elm Street that it would be cool to lead tours of downtown Greensboro - hmmm, could I make any money at that?)

So, please don't tell but I am actually enjoying branching out. I don't feel like I am in a vocational funeral. It feels more like a kind of change of season, maybe summer to fall, and I like the breeze.


Joan said...

I would love to go from being a CPA to selling organic food at the Farmer's Market! I ponder that kind of thing all the time especially after my visits to the mountains.

I'm no pastor but I do work in a church. I can relate to what you are saying. Best wishes and prayers for your future.

Joel said...

Joel here - I accidentally doubled up on the post of this piece, and Henry Neufeld left the following comment on the one I deleted.

Good post and good attitude. I recall similar reactions when I recently shut down a small, all-volunteer non-profit. It simply wasn't accomplishing what it was supposed to. After the board vote people wanted to offer condolences. I asked, "Everyone is doing what they were before, right? We just got rid of the extra baggage."

All the best to you; I pray your find just the right job. Who knows? Perhaps God is calling you to guide tours!

6/23/2009 06:02:00 PM

You can find Henry here -

Pressly McQuiston said...


I can totally relate! I've been out of pastoral ministry almost as long as you were in. I'm still ordained, so I sometimes come to those crossroads in conversation that make people say "Oh!" like they wish they could take something back. That, and the tax implications of pastoral ministry, are the stuff they don't teach us in seminary. :-/

May our God bless you with a rewarding career and many opportunities to be salt and light in the marketplace!


Amy Deardon said...

Joel, I don't know the circumstances, but I hope things ended on a good note. Good luck with job hunting, and whatever you find, I'm sure you will do it heartily as to the Lord :-)

Joel said...

Amy, yes, all in all things ended on a good note, with grace and peace. These transitions are awkward for everyone though. Thanks, Joel

Christspeak said...

so how are you?....really.
Just kiddin. I do pray for you daily, but only because I know you are so talented in so many areas. I can't wait to see what happens next for you.