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Why I stayed a pastor: A response to viral 'great pastor resignation' article

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Pastor Alexander Lang has recently published an article that blew up on social media over Labor Day weekend regarding his resignation from the First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights in Illinois. He said this:

“I have become a part of what is known as the Great Pastor Resignation that came in the wake of the pandemic. Barna did a national survey of pastors and, as of March 2022, 42% of pastors considered quitting. Here are the top five reasons:

1. The immense stress of the job: 56%
2. I feel lonely and isolated: 43%
3. Current political divisions: 38%
4. I am unhappy with the effect this role has had on my family: 29%
5. I am not optimistic about the future of my church: 29%”

Pastor Lang goes on to say:

“I can relate to all of these, but in particular, the top two are the ones that figured heavily into my decision.”

The Great Pastor Resignation has continued in our world since the global pandemic. And I personally would be a liar if I said I had not considered it too.  Pastoring was difficult before the global pandemic, but it feels unbearable since then.

I thought it curious that Pastor Lang was not just resigning as a pastor but starting a ministry to teach people how to experience the love of God through relationships. He is also writing a book called Restorative Beauty that focuses on individual spirituality. On his blog post, he gives an excerpt of the introduction of his book on spirituality. Here is what he said:

“Spirituality is a very amorphous concept. It means different things to different people. For some people, spirituality describes their connection with God. For others, spirituality describes their inner path to experiencing a transcendental reality or discovering the essence of their being. And still others view spirituality as a quest for love or fulfillment. Moreover, every person experiences spirituality in their own unique way. What qualifies as spiritual for one person might not qualify as spiritual for another and vice-versa.”

I appreciate Pastor Lang’s desire to help people experience spirituality, but it doesn’t sound to me like his future endeavors are all-encompassed by John 14:6 where Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” That definition of spirituality, Christian spirituality, is very different than what I hear Pastor Lang’s conveying.

It makes sense to me now why Pastor Lang would title his article, “Why I am leaving the church.” Because that is what he is doing.

Since Pastor Lang resigned, started a ministry, and is writing a book, I think it fitting that at least for another pastor, or two, or three, to give an opposing view and direction. As a pastor, I have served Vanguard Church of Colorado Springs for the past 26 years. No, it is not as big now as it was before the pandemic. And the complexity of individual relationships and expectations far exceeds anything I have experienced up to now.  Our mission is to love people into a real relationship with Jesus Christ. I find it takes great courage to proclaim to God’s people what God’s Word has to say to them about life, sexuality, gender, race, having a job, and the list goes on.

About a year ago, Vide Press, now Leadership Books, published a book I had spent five years writing called, The Good Pastor. The premise is simple. My Dallas Theological Professor Dr. John Hannah said to me and a classroom of students preparing for the ministry some 30 years ago, “Do you want to be great for God?” We all leaned forward in our seats. He had our attention. Some of us audibly, “Yeah!”

He then said, “Don’t quit, don’t fornicate, you will be the only one left and you will be great!”

I was stunned. What? Really? That’s all it takes. And now here I am almost 30 years later realizing those two statements require an immense amount of spiritual discipline, desire to keep dreaming, determination, and dependence, but he was right.

Maybe you, like me, read Pastor Lang’s post and resonate deeply with the pain pastoring has caused you. I thought he did a masterful job articulating what it is like to be a pastor, but I couldn’t disagree more with his conclusions.

God calls us to wait on Him. We can wait in hope or in hopelessness, but eventually, hopelessness leads to quitting or worse, fornicating.

In the Good Pastor book, I share with brutal honesty my own failings alongside the ways and how others have failed me in the ministry.  But I also challenge pastors to come back to the reality of who God has created them to be and called them to be. The Psalmist teaches us how to pray to God about these matters. The Psalmist says in Psalm 138:8 in The Message Bible, “Finish what you started in me, God. Your love is eternal — don’t quit on me now.”

You won’t sustain yourself in the pastorate; it requires divine strength and love. That only comes from Jesus.

Maybe you are waiting hopelessly like me sometimes. Waiting on the Lord hopelessly will not last either. You must wait with hope. The Psalmist in the Message Bible said to the Lord, “The moment I called out, you (God) stepped in; you made my life large with strength.”

Pastor, God’s not done with you.

If you are hopeless, I invite you to consider a path forward that doesn’t require you to quit the pastorate or His Church. I have poured my life into Jesus' church and out of that I have created The Good Pastor to help other pastors cross the finish line of faith, hearing Jesus say to them, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Don’t quit, stay the course, and you, my pastor friend, will be great for God.

Kelly Williams is co-founder and senior pastor of Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  His books include: The Good Pastor, The Mystery of 23Friend of Sinners and Real Marriage. He also maintains a blog.  

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