I heard recently of a friend I was in college with who had been pastoring a church for 14 years and recently he resigned his church. He surfaced again two months later representing a mission agency.
Last autumn, another friend, about my age, resigned his church. He had been there for ten years, and the church he had been at before that he had also been at for a long time.
Another friend quits years of pastoring, to go teach at a bible school. Another leaves his long served church to work in administration in his denomination. The local chaplain becomes a chaplain after years of long service in a local church.
This has me bugged.
Qualified, experienced pastors leaving the local church, to do something else, somewhat related. Not leaving in disgrace or failure, just leaving.
Like I said, this bothers me. Mostly because we are living in a day and age when experience is needed. We need people like these who have proven a willingness to stick it out for the long term. People who are committed to others come what may, and who have a deep sense of calling to care.
But I think I'm starting to get it.
These pastors who are quitting, they aren't the ones who move on after a couple of years, or see it as a step on the way to a bigger and better church. No, they are the ones who stick around, long term. They see a part of their work as that of being present, for a long time. They live the discipline of stability which calls for a committed way of life with a certain group of people for the long haul.
Yet how many of these committed relationships can you commit to in your life time?
How many of these long term relationships can you have with groups of people? People you live with and learn to love, in spite of their many idiosyncrasies. You love and you care and you argue and you make up. You grow and watch and pray and hope and celebrate and hurt for them. How many times can you do that in your lifetime?
Maybe it's like a couple that's spent a lifetime together and are in love and the thought of starting over with someone else if their spouse dies, is just too overwhelming. It won't happen because it's too hard to create again the unique dynamics the two of them once had. They will never love again like that, and they realize it.
Sometimes these pastors pour everything that they have into the churches they care for, and that cost can sometimes be so great. It leaves them unable to see how they could ever do that again. They don't have that youthful zeal that would once drive them on. They become tired and the church expects certain levels of care and service from them. It's just how it goes.
For them, the thought of another long term commitment to a group of believers is simply overwhelming. So they look at their options, and move to a part of ministry that might not be as emotionally demanding for them.
Longevity is a good thing. Commitment is good too. But how do you live in this place, for a long time, again and again and again?
I don't have the answers.
In fact I think I'm just beginning to understand the questions.