8 Surprising Insights From a Former Pastor

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Time away from the pastorate reveals these powerful insights.

I’ve served in the local church as a pastor for over 32 years, yet for the past year, I’ve not served in an official pastoral role. After seven and a half wonderful years at a church in Aurora, IL, I left to accomplish several goals that I couldn’t have if I were on staff at a church.

Because my passion lies in the local church, however, I believe I will soon pastor another church as I’m now in conversations with those showing interest.

Yet, this past year has proved invaluable in teaching me insight about what it’s like not being a pastor.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

As you read, ask yourself if any of these are true of you.

1. I allowed my identity to get too wrapped up in being a pastor. 

As a pastor, I told myself to guard against this. But not being one has allowed me to truly see it from the “other side of the aisle,” and see how easy it is to replace my identity in Christ with my identity as a pastor.

2. I found that I liked being noticed by others as a pastor.

In my new church where we’ve joined, although I’ve preached a couple of times, when church people meet me they just see a regular person, not a pastor. However, when I was a pastor, people instantly recognized me.

It’s tempting to enjoy recognition too much. I hope when I begin serving again as a senior pastor, I won’t forget this lesson.

Charles Stone Dr. Charles Stone is Lead Pastor at West Park Church in London, Ontario, Canada, and the founder of StoneWell Ministries, a pastor coaching and church consulting ministry. He is the author of four books including, "People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership" (IVP 2014), and his forthcoming book, “Brain-Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry” (Abingdon, May 2015).

More from Charles Stone or visit Charles at http://www.charlesstone.com/

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  • Daniel Rosa

    Wow! So very true. Thank you, for your honesty, I think I have experienced every one if those points…I also have NEVER heard another man of the cloth speak so openly about these matters! And if u have faced them, and I have faced them…we can’t be the only ones!!!

  • Scott Moore

    Just by writing this it shows how much you miss being heard and the influence God, through you, can have on others. Being recognized and excepted is always a wonderful thing, praise be to God through Christ, He recognizes us, and I believe you nailed it for others with fact that all congregants want to be recognized and appreciated for who they are.
    In this time of refining, The Lord seems to be making you more empathetic towards those you used to serve, and now just let them serve you and you serve them from a different position in life, one of no reputation and watch The Lord bless that. You will have the chance at deeper and stranger relationships and you will learn what people want from the church and why they don’t attend regularly (I know you stated this already) ….. May our God show you what and how the saints should be doing, so you can share back with us.

  • David Macer

    Charles, thank you for your insights my brother!

  • http://napadofoundation.com/ Donald G.

    As someone who has served as interim pastor and bi-vocational pastor, I have been both in the pew and behind the pulpit. I appreciated how well you articulated this issue. Thank you for sharing. I will be praying as you are presented with new opportunities that God will give you wisdom in your choice.

  • Simon D

    Overall the article is great. But if I was to take #4 and apply it – I would probably have a hard time applying some of the others. As a pastor I really try hard to not to place so much emphasis on “deliver” a compelling, spirit-filled worship service every Sunday”. I pray, I plan and I then I have to let go and give the whole outcome to God, otherwise I would get to much into #1,#2 and #8. I my identify as pastor gets wrapped in how the service went. That’s just me.

    The other point is that you can gat caught up in creating a atmosphere for people to come to “get something” out of the worship service (because they have given up their time) rather than teach them to come to give their worship to Him. When people leave they should not be saying “I really liked the worship service today” they should be asking “did God accept my worship today? was it pleasing to Him?”

  • CJ

    I personally know pastors who, when visiting other churches, expect them to be recognized as a pastor to this church that they are visiting. If they are not, they snub the church. I hope that many pastors will read this and judge themselves on these items. Thank you for sharing.

  • Wm. R. Gerber

    WHOA! Are you following me around or what!?? I too have experienced all of your points. I would also add that it is very helpful to find a brochure that explains the ministry the Church provides. Yes, I need to worship, but it is critical for me to exercise my gifts. Those don’t go away. I lean toward urban issues, so I’m interested in churches that have a stake among the “least of these”. Sometimes those ministries are hard to uncover, if I find myself being treated like a stranger. If I disclose myself to my Pastor, the proverbial cover is blown, and suddenly I have a colleague versus a Pastor. I want a Pastor — even after 40 years+ in the “vineyard”. “Anonymous” is good, but very difficult to accomplish!

  • Taurayi Sander Mpunganyi

    A great lesson for many I believe. Thanks Charles, God bless. How about the dilemma of being called “Pastor ” by a congregate or minister who knows from the past work done, especially when you would have been happier staying regular member? Keeps you conscious of the calling too more than the tag,I believe . Blessings in the next vocational opportunity .

  • Grady Walton

    9. The length of the sermon matters, a lot. (LOL) But seriously, I found number 3 very poignant, especially if you apply it to how some churches recruit and depend on volunteers. It is good for church leaders to remember that many volunteers may be overloaded with responsibilities during the week. It is not good for the long-term health of a church to rely on overburdened volunteers. Of course the folks in the pew have a responsibility to set boundaries in their personal lives so that they don’t burn out.

    By the way, what does “identity in Christ” look like? I get that it is not a role or a title, but I have often heard this term in the church, though nobody has adequately defined it. I assume it means that as a Christian we have an identity attached to Christ or that flows from Christ. Perhaps it means that our genuine Characteristics (who we really are) are brought to the front where they flourish in service to God and others.

  • Geoff Surratt

    This is EXACTLY my experience (except for the Sr Pastor part). Thanks for articulating the experience.

  • Todd Stafford

    After 16 years of being church staff, I’ve been just a normal guy for the last two years. I can completely agree with what you are saying.

  • Tom

    I must admit, when I saw the post title, I didn’t want to click it. I was prepared for another post detailing the same rehashed rhetoric I’ve read before. However, I’m glad I clicked — and read. As a former pastor myself, it’s sometimes hard to articulate exactly what I have felt and experienced after 16 years in the ministry — much less find someone else who understands it. However, I appreciate your spirit and your candor in this article.

    I have been out of the ministry for nearly 2.5 years now, and it is near impossible for me to attend worship at all — I work 7 days, 65+ hours per week at my two jobs, not to mention that my wife has been diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disorder and requires a lot of my time and care.

    For those still serving, as it was for me, it is definitely easy to underestimate, or even forget altogether, what is being expected of those who volunteer their time not only to attend worship, but also to serve in other areas as well.

    • Ryan

      You see now how the church more fits the middle class 9 to 5’vers and retired. Service job people who work Saturday evenings and Sundays either don’t get to church much or just quit going if they were and get out of the habit of going all together. If they do go, they can’t get involved in ministry and often can’t even participate in church activities if they work most afternoons and evenings. I’ve been there. My wife has always worked service jobs and didn’t go much with me and ended up just not going if did she had a Sunday off. You never fully understand others till you’ve walked in their shoes and see as they see. I often asked, what could a church do to be a 24/7 place so everyone can participate. I suppose I’m reading and posting in it as I type this. As for me in my shoes, life outside with God is much more simple and a lot less stressful.

  • Mark Burgess

    I am happy just to be a Christian who preaches to a church family and let the Elders (pastors/bishops) do the scriptural job they are responsible to God for.

  • Gerri

    Thanks for sharing this Dr. Stone…my husband and I can certainly share your feelings. We are former missionaries and now we both have to work and it’s been difficult fitting into any church as well being out of full-time ministry. My husband has come to realize that our calling isn’t who we are–it’s our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ that is vital. We love ministry…and we both seek opportunities to serve and reach others while working and serving the Lord. God will open a door in His good timing.

  • Tim

    Our “church system” has created an artificial classification of what a pastor really is. Too much is expected of a pastor when the whole body should be doing its part. Our man-made system has created something that is far from the biblical way. Too much pressure and power are given to a pastor even if the system claims plurality of leadership.
    It has reached the point where the pastor/minister/missionary is paid to walk with the Lord so that others don´t have to. All they need to do is inject money or some voluntary work into the system, and expect a spiritual service to be given. Pastors/ministers/missionaries are hired to do a job others don´t want to do – walk in the spirit.
    It makes me think of doctors, lawyers, plumbers, etc., where we hire them to do a job that we can´t do. But walking in the spirit, relating with our heavenly Father, living the life God wants from us, is not something we can hire someone else to do.
    So I believe the system we haved developed for quite some centuries has to be re-evaluated in light of Scripture itself through the direction of the Holy Spirit.
    My name is Tim. I am a son and grandson of missionaries in Brazil.

    • The Man

      ^^^Tim^^^ gets it. “Hired to walk with the Lord so others don’t have to,” or “do a job that we can’t do.” This is both wrong and ridiculous on both counts… and utterly foreign, even contrary, to any NT vision of Community.

  • Preacher’s Kid

    As a former PK I knew all too well the identity my dad placed in being a pastor. To all pastors with young kids it’s important that they know you as dad besides being Rev.________. And please spare therm from having to hear you say, “How can I tell people in the church not to do (whatever) if I allow it in my house.” This really makes the “fishbowl” of the parsonage very visible in the eyes of PK’s. I grew up, married a PK who has been in ministry for over 40 years. We had 4 little pk’s 2 of which are married to pk’s. So it couldn’t have been all bad. LOL

  • Shanna Everson

    your article comes at a very poinent time of my life. After 17 years of church leadership and administration I have decided to take a sabbatical. I work full time as a caregiver and I take care of a 92 year old father in law and as a leader in church I was asked to be at every event and every service and it just about wiped me out trying to do it.
    I so appreciate everyone’s comments and I’m feeling more free then ever to be on the other side and just sit at Jesus feet and rest and rest and rest. the Lord reminded me of the song I’m coming back to the heart of worship. its all about YOU its all about you Jesus I’m sorry Lord for the way I have made it but its all about YOU its all about you Jesus isn’t it?

  • DavidT

    After 25 years of ministry I found myself out of the pastorate for some nine months. I thought I had guarded my identity well…but I was wrong. For most of that time I found myself “lost” and not knowing who I was. I found I had to go back to the basics of simply being satisfied as one who is simply “in Christ”. It was horrible in the beginning and very liberating in the end. Great article.