In our transition out of church and full-time ministry, my husband and I have found ourselves on a rollercoaster - sometimes in the same car, sometimes not. When our episodes aired on Losing Our Religion (read about and listen to Part 1 and Part 2), we listened to them together and Mat cringed when he reveals his true feelings about pastors being paid - something I never realized he struggled with. So I wanted to give Mat the opportunity to share more about what he's processing since leaving ministry, the thing he literally thought he'd do until he turned 80.
This separation from the church, while still believing in God, is hard.
I am not monetarily wealthy.
From those who have amassed large sums of money, I have become aware of a tough decision to make when it comes to your friends that have no money. Do you give them money and become their golden goose or do you cut ties with them? I have been told no other option is possible, or sustainable. If you give them money and things, there comes a time when you wonder if they are still your friend for personal reasons or financial ones. If you cut ties with them, you look like a d-bag who is too good for them and become a leper in their eyes.
When I was working at a church, I felt like people were only my friend because of what I did. Real or imagined, that was my perception of the kindness and attention I received. The value I had was derived from how well I performed and how great a result I could manufacture. People would extend more praise when I did what they wanted. So I did what they wanted. I gave and gave until I ran dry; my spiritual bank account read zero and I was emotionally bankrupt.
Life after Ministry
On Sundays, I do not attend a church. I am still a Christian and have a deep connection to God and His word, but I do not feel comfortable going back to a place where I know my relationship with God will once again be called on to perform - to do.
And there lies the core of what God is teaching me: Being a person of faith starts with being, not doing.
It’s hard to write a report card on who someone is. It's easier to assess and grade a person's behaviors and actions. Our character is paramount and it will eventually inform our actions, but far too often I see people in churches forcing learned behaviors and following hallowed traditions to earn a passing grade in the eyes of those around them with no inner change. This behavior is no longer acceptable to me, nor tolerable. So I sit on the couch in my pajamas with my wife on Sundays and we discuss what God is teaching us, while those who go to church out of obligation condemn us for not “doing” church.
I am not monetarily wealthy, but I am rich in faith.
I tried giving my faith away only to feel used by those in the church to supplement their own faith and agenda. So I am cutting ties with the corporate faith community, by stepping out of ministry, and the walls of the church are now too high for those "inside" to see over. I feel like a villain.
I am a former full-time pastor; a former employee of the global corporation pedaling acceptance as long as you adhere to their guides. I am a forgotten worker of a tax-exempt company whose sole income is based on the saving of souls; whose success is measured by contributing members. I have retired from this company, and I do not plan on reinvesting.
I still believe in a church. I believe God wants to change the world through his word, his people, and his Spirit. But until the American church looks more like an organic gathering of faith-filled Christ lovers, and less like a pyramid-schemed business, I’ll hang out with the broken, the lost, and the sinners who'd never walk into a church telling them of my faith, my experiences, and my powerful God.