Today was a significant day for us as we let our 2 church communities know that our time as paid pastors is coming to an end. I have sensed this coming for a couple of years, but it’s only recently begun to register on Danelle’s radar. After 14 years at Quinns and 4 at Yanchep Church it’s a big change for all of us, but it feels like the time is right to create space for others to step into and flourish.
Conventional wisdom is that when a pastor/s resigns from a church they move onto a new community to ensure their leadership doesn’t get in the way of the incumbent leader. That may make sense in a more corporate expression of church, but in the familial / friendship culture we are part of that would just feel weird. These are our close and much loved friends. We aren’t moving anywhere or taking on any new ministry positions so to jettison the people we love is a bizarre concept.
When we took the role on, it was at the request of Chris (the original church planter), whose son-in-law happened to be the youth pastor. ‘This is a recipe for disaster,’ I said as we discussed working together. Then we agreed to work there anyway. Chris made it clear that if he ever became an obstacle to our leadership that we were free to ask him to leave. We have butted heads a few times over 14 years, but I have never made that call. It isn’t how I believe the church should function. It’s been beautiful to be in a church that now has 3 generations of senior pastors.
So as we stay around and become ‘ordinary members’ of both Quinns and Yanchep we do so in the belief that we are first friends and co-workers for the gospel, before we are any kind of paid employee. I fully appreciate that the ‘paid employee’ is a thing that we need to navigate, but we also need to reframe it and look at it thru the lens we choose to view church by, rather than what we are told is ‘correct’.
I’m actually on holidays from church at the moment, but we came back this week to speak with people and I actually sensed the desire to preach from a beautiful passage in 1 Thess 2. Paul writes these words:
As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but instead we were gentle among you like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well. Surely you remember our toil and hardship. We worked hard day and night so as not to be a burden to anyone as we preached to you the gospel of God. You are our witnesses and so is God of how holy righteous and blameless we were among those who believed. We dealt with as a father deals with his children, comforting, encouraging and urging you to live lives worthy of God who calls us into his kingdom and glory.1 Thess 2
The central verse in that section speaks of sharing life with people – because we love them – and in that space then sharing the gospel of God. That’s the core of what we have been doing for the last 14 years. Danelle would see our time in Quinns and Yanchep as the time she fully stepped into being a legit ‘pastor’ – and that would be true. I would see it as very much the time when I let go of any pastoral ‘career’ aspirations and sought to function more from the position of ‘friend/brother’. Obviously you can’t be friends with everyone and there are times when I needed to wear the pastoral role more fully, but it was an intentional shift that has allowed us to create a culture that people generally want to be a part of. It isn’t perfect- please don’t hear me say that – but I would hope it is a ‘no BS’ kinda church where you can be accepted and loved for who you are rather than any image you conform to.
The parental images in that passage have also been significant for us. There was a period in my youth ministry years where I was generally perceived as an ‘ideas man’ (if you know ‘The Castle’ then you know…) and some of my ideas were risky or dangerous. I wasn’t seen as the person who made the place feel ‘safe’. Here I am now at 58 years old and that has been much more both of our roles for the last 10 or so years. Our presence has had a ‘parental’ vibe to it – a vibe I once turned my nose up at – but an inclination I can now see the value of. I don’t feel like I have run out of ‘risk taking energy’, I’m probably just a little more careful with where I exercise that inclination. I feel like our resignation allows for a shift into a less obvious role now. It’s one I liken to that of a tribal elder – present and committed – but less engaged day to day. I imagine some of you who are older have also made that kind of a shift.
Why the change?
The primary reason is to create space for new and younger leadership to really flourish and do well. As we sat in staff meetings on Friday afternoons with our crew from both churches I loved the energy in the room that I felt from the other guys and I had this gentle sense of the spirit saying ‘get out of the way’. It wasn’t implying that my use by date was pending – more just a quiet voice calling me to let go of our roles to give space for new leadership to rise up.
Then there was the day I was fixing someone’s retic and they came out to chat and saw the ‘Weigh My Caravan’ sign on the side of my car. ‘So you fix retic and you weigh caravans? What else do you do?’ he asked sarcastically. I completely missed the tone of his voice and fired back quickly, ‘I pastor a couple of churches and I’m writing a book.’ I instantly realised how absurd that sounded. It wasn’t that I was drowning in workplace overload, as I tend to not allow that to occur, but I did sense that it was time for the focus to be sharpened again.
I’ve made a commitment to give ‘writing’ a fair go over the next few years. I’ve got a couple of books at least that I’d like to write and having finished one book, I can see it will be difficult to continue splitting energy in several different ways. So pastoring emerged again as the role to let go. While we won’t be holding pastoral positions in either church, the reality is that we can’t stop being who we are. We will love people, hang out with them and point them towards Jesus whether we get paid or not. Of course I will be happy to see some of the more ‘work-like’ tasks taken off my plate, but we don’t want to be those people who disappear off the radar once the flow of $$ stopped.
For both of us there is an element of curiosity about what it will be like to not be pastors. I have been a pastor for 31 years and Danelle has lived in a pastoral household for 52 years. Whether we can really know what its like to not be pastors is debatable – but we’d like to live in that space for a while.
What lies ahead? Great question. We are now empty nesters as well… but we have no plans to leave Yanchep, and I’m not up for making foolish statements about what tomorrow will hold. I’ve been there, done that and now look back with laughter!