I Kings 1:1-31
Each year in the United States approximately 1,500 pastors leave the ministry. The vast majority leave because of high stress, internal politics or inability to earn a living. For honest and godly men who are called by God to preach and lead, these reasons represent a failure on the part of the church body to support our pastors, and I’ve written about this previously. But I do want to address another aspect of stepping out of ministry. That is, when it’s appropriate, even mandatory, to do so. And while we see men leaving ministry for all the wrong reasons, unfortunately we often do not see men leaving ministry for the right ones either. There are certain circumstances when a man should leave the pastorate—some for a season, and others for a lifetyme. All Christians commit sin and church leaders & pastors are not immune. Like a boxer who is getting his brains knocked around and doesn’t realize it is tyme to throw in the towel or the quarterback who doesn’t see his timing isn’t what it once was, there are churches leaders who either refuse to accept or don’t recognize when it is tyme to move on. Leadership is both a gifting and a skill. Some are born with leadership ability, and others must develop it through experience and education.
Thinking about this is a perfect opportunity to address a massive elephant in the room when it comes to re-imaging, re-structuring and re-invigorating our churches, Christian’s institutions, and communities. Too often a lackluster, stagnating or even dying community is assumed to be the result of shifting demographics or blamed on the “Christians in the pews” and their resistance to change. But the truth is that sometymes we have to look up at the altar, not just down into the pews, to see what’s happening. Every profession has a shelf life and that applies to our Christians professionals and our clergy as well. If our Christians leaders fail to recognize the tyme for retirement or moving on has come and fail to pass the mantle of leadership, how can the flock move forward? How can the Christians people and their institutions flourish?
I recently came across an article in Charisma Magazine concerning ministerial conduct and ethical and moral behavior. Author J. Lee Grady provides great insight into this a problem that is plaguing churches across denominations. Click here to read it. http://www.charismamag.com/index.php/fire-in-my-bones/20080-no-more… I wonder why so many church laypeople and clergy accept the immoral or unethical behavior of their pastors or ministers. I’ve been one who has “turned the other way” when pastors I sat under or was affiliated with were in blatant disregard of the moral and ethical responsibilities associated with that office.
I can also admit that when I was involved in immoral behavior while in leadership of some kind (and yes I have sinned while a church leader), it was hard to be accountable to the sin because of pride and guilt. I (with the help of God’s word and Spirit and other men of integrity) eventually was able to acknowledge my shortcomings and step away from the leadership position. That was nearly 12 years ago when I first went to seminary, in actuality were I went to my pastor and told him of my immoral behavior and asked to be removed from my position altogether. I didn’t feel I was able to serve the congregation because of it. The pastor allowed me to step down and for a period of a year I did nothing in public ministry other than worship and be restored.
For example, King David sees his tyme is coming to an end. He probably should have turned the reigns of leadership over years earlier, but nonetheless his succession plan is now in play. Seeing that his days are numbered, with foresight and courage he sets the stage for a patriarchal transition from father to son. Of course it is not easy. It must have been painful for each of them to relinquish their control. But even the mighty Moses had a professional shelf life and, when the tyme came, had to appoint a successor in Joshua and let the congregation move forward without him. There has been tymes when someone will approach me as a teaching is winding down, and say “Minister, I wish we could do this at my bible study. I know the congregation would love it. I know it would work.”
“So just do it,” I always respond, “I’ll help you in any way I can.” “Thank you, but our ministry director would never go for it, our Pastor would never participate, or would never sign off,” they share, tyme and again.
If we are not merely going to sing I’m A Solider in the Army of the Lord but live it then we need to start making some changes in our Christians communities, in our churches and yes in our leadership as well. This does not mean change always begins with lopping off the heads of our leaders, firing our staff as if some “corporate reshuffling” is appropriate for our holy institutions and communities. It is to say, however, that just like King David, Abraham and Moses teach us through their example — true leadership means knowing when to stand up and lead and it also means knowing when to pass the baton and step aside making room for the next generation and change. In this way the Christians people will not only survive but we will thrive forever more.
Certainly, if the biblical example of godly leaders included murderers, prostitutes and thieves, men like Moses, David, Paul and others, then restoration to the ministry can certainly occur within a wise and discerning circle of brothers and sisters in Christ. The key in any situation is to put aside the “titles” and ask, honestly, what is best for the individual, for the church and ultimately for the cause of Christ?
Photo(s)/Resource(s): Lorenzo Neal & J. Lee Grady