There is no greater honor than to serve the local church as a pastor. Really. I cannot think of anything more fulfilling than to pronounce the life, death, and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of sin to those who are called His. The local church which I have served has been wonderful to my family and I. They have treated my wife, my children, and me with great respect. They have honored the office of Pastor, have supported us with their prayers, their giving, and their continual love for us. As corny as it sounds, the pastor to parish and parish to pastor relationship we have enjoyed was truly a match made in heaven. You'd be hard pressed to get me to believe that there is a more humble, loving, and joyful group of believers than the group which gathers each Lord's day at The United Methodist Church of Delta. These have been the greatest four years of my life thus far. Obviously no congregation is perfect, and Delta UMC is no exception, but I have never once walked into another church and wished that Delta UMC would be more like them.
Aside from the parish itself, I'd say the work of a pastor is an incredibly blessed work. To administer word and sacrament is as joyful a burden as any that someone could be placed under. The sense of carrying the presence of Christ into hospitals, committee meetings, the pulpit, the community, and elsewhere is a sense every believer can enjoy, but is especially poignant when you carry that presence as an official of the church. The work of binding people in marriage, regenerating people in baptism, laying people to rest in funeral services, and so on are works that no human deserves the privilege of carrying out. I am thankful to have been called to carry out those works despite my own unworthiness.
Why then would I leave such a blessed work? Allow me to start by listing some things that were not reasons I left. People may think it was financial, it was not. As a pastor in the UMC I had health coverage, a parsonage, no utility bills, no cell phone bills, no worries about fixing the roof on the house or replacing a furnace. Everything was provided. Financially my family was well cared for and we lacked nothing. Some may think it was the stress of the job. I have not found pastoring to be any more stressful than other lines of work. Yes there are a lot of hats to wear, and it is occasionally overwhelming, but the parish I serve has never once caused me to put the church before my family, nor have they ever treated me in such a way that left me feeling less than human. Some might think I'd leave to get out of the limelight and the pressure of living in a fishbowl. Again, the church respected our privacy and personal space, plus if you know me you know that I don't mind being the center of attention anyway. None of the standard reasons for leaving the ministry seem to apply to me.
So why have we made this decision? Mainly because of the itinerancy system in the UMC. One of the most difficult realities that your local UMC pastor has to deal with is the fact that any given June they can be called to move within the conference. As my family has grown from 3 members to 5 in the time we have been in Delta the pressure of itinerancy has grown. The reality that every friendship my 6 year old makes is ultimately temporary, and every family which we connect with will ultimately end up separated from us is a reality that is too much for us to stomach. I don't think the itinerancy is a bad system per se, but it is not the right system for my family. Beyond that the pressure of obtaining a seminary education while balancing the life of family and church is pressure that cannot be understated. Truth be told becoming a Methodist minister while raising a young a family is a daunting proposition. Many ministers have pulled it off swimmingly, I could not.
So what of your 'call'? In Methodist clergy circles there is a lot of talk around this ethereal notion of 'call'. We constantly review our sense of calling and cling to this sense as a driving motivation to continue through the process. The idea that 'we could not be fulfilled doing anything else' is to be at the heart of vocation. To be frank, I love ministry and have enjoyed it immensely, but I have never had the sense that I could not be fulfilled or living faithfully doing anything else. I am perfectly content to serve Christ as an engineer, and am very excited to do so again. In fact the idea of being laity in the church excites me.
What is next for my family and I? Let me break down how this all happened and in the process I will explain what is next. About a month ago Kristin and I were discussing our future as a family and in this discussion, as always, the itinerancy finds its way to the forefront. We came to the conclusion that we would be open for anything, ministry or not, and would be willing to go wherever God would lead… even if he led us out of ministry. After that conversation and much seeking of God I began to think about what it would be like to be an engineer again. I considered contacting Edco (my former place of employment) just to see what was going on there, but not seeking work. I figured putting my name back on their radar wouldn't hurt. Truth be told if God were to lead us out of ministry it would seem that it would have to happen quickly as the window of opportunity to return to engineering work gets smaller with each passing year. The following morning after this conversation, before I made any effort to contact Edco, I received a message from them asking if I'd ever be interested in coming back to work for them. It had been a number of years since I had any contact with them. This was apparently out of the blue. I decided I would contact them back and meet with the general manager and plant manager to discuss the opportunity. I went in and explained to them what role I would want. Essentially I wanted to oversee Edco's engineering. It was clear when I told them this that it was exactly what they were looking for. I gave them a salary I desired assuming there would be some debate, instead they instantly agreed with what I proposed. (I wonder how much more I could have asked for!) We worked out the details and a couple days later I accepted the position. There are also other circumstantial things that fell into place. Our home in Toledo which we have been renting has come available for us to live in which solves any potential housing issues. So as of June 2nd I will be the senior design engineer at Edco, and will continue to preach in Delta until the end of June.
I believe in the UMC (though we don't always see eye to eye), I believe in the systems in place. However I believe that in light of those systems, and in light of the opportunity which arose immediately after considering these things that we are following the will of Christ in this transition.
Please keep our family lifted in prayer, and keep the people of Delta UMC in your prayers as we move through this. This is not an easy thing for any of us, but it seems that everyone understands it. Pray for your pastor, and when you might be frustrated with your Pastor consider the underlying realities which they live with. It is a great life, but not all roses by any stretch of the imagination.
Peace for now, and God bless you.