Going without knowing

By the end of this Sunday I’ll officially be an unemployed pastor – and by my own choice.

About a year ago, I realized that I was somewhere at the mid-point of life and felt this heightened burden to steward well the next chapters of my life.  Betty and I felt the strong need to pray and discern what this next chapter might hold for us but the pace of ministry simply didn’t afford the time and space to do that (or more accurately said, the way I had chosen to carry out my ministry didn’t create the space and time to do that).

Last March we had dinner with another couple, in town from Vancouver, who shared their story in which they took a year off from pastoral ministry, and the idea was hatched.  To be honest, the notion to take extended time away simply wasn’t on our radar – we never imagined we could do such a thing.  But after praying it through, talking with friends and figuring out how we could manage it financially, we decided to take the plunge.

“But why?” people still wonder.  I get that – this is not the usual thing to do.  But I recently came across a quote from Henri Nouwen, the Catholic spiritual writer, that captures well the impulse behind this decision.  It’s written to pastors but is applicable across the board.  He writes:

“In general we are very busy people.  We have many meetings to attend, many visits to make, many services to lead.  Our calendars are filled with appointments, our days and weeks filled with engagements, and our years filed with plans and projects.  There is seldom a period in which we do not know what to do, and we move through life in such a distracted way that we do not even take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say or do are worth thinking, saying, or doing.  We simply go along with the many “musts” and “oughts” that have been handed on to us, and we live with them as if they were authentic translations of the Gospel of our Lord.”

I don’t want to go along with the musts or oughts that have been handed to me.  Mostly, this decision is a response to what I’ve sensed is an invitation from God to examine my life and how I’m living it, opening myself to something new.

So here we go, jumping without a net, in the spirit of Abram who was called by God to leave but not told where they were going.  Say are prayer (many prayers actually) for us as we head out going without knowing where to next.

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  1. #1 by Martin Contant on November 30, 2010 - 6:38 pm

    Phil,
    You mentioned your new blog so this is my first look. Appreciate the Nouwen quote. Today I heard of another pastor who is packing it in, for reasons not unlike yours. Many who have heard about your new journey admire you and wish they could do the same. What is it about our profession that is supposed to introduce people to the God of life, rest and fullness, and encourage them to find life here…that in fact wears us out in the process. Looking forward to meeting with you in a couple of weeks to talk more… mjc

    • #2 by phil on November 30, 2010 - 8:17 pm

      thanks for dropping by Martin. I’m not packing it in yet; just unplugging to recalibrate and hopefully find a new rhythm to re-enter with. I’ve got a few ideas on why so many pastors are dropping out or getting crispy-fried. Lots has to do with our own emotional junk. A lot has to do with huge expectations church’s place on pastors – expecting them to be change agents but not wanting to change at all. And there’s lots of cultural stuff – we’re in the midst of huge transitions and no one knows how to navigate this time in history, how to be church. Hope we can talk more when you’re here – but do drop by again.

  2. #3 by Tom Bomhof on January 27, 2011 - 8:05 pm

    Hi Phil, Thanks for the posting. I’m going on a sabbatical in May. It’s fairly unstructured, although I am taking a course a the Pastor’s Institute at Regent for two weeks. I’m going to be meeting with a Spiritual Director monthly, and doing a lot of walking, resting, praying, and retreating as well. I love the Nouwen quote, too. Have a wonder-filled sabbattical. I think I’m going to buy your book.

    • #4 by phil on January 28, 2011 - 6:57 am

      Great to hear from you Tom – enjoy the sabbatical. Unstructured is good – give yourself lots of room to rest. And do pick up a copy of the book – there’s a number of churches that are doing it together, as a communal practice church-wide.

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