This is the final installment of a 5 part series. Part 1 can be found here: https://morgantrotter.wordpress.com/2008/06/05/a-spiritual-journey-1/ . Parts 2-4 can be found among my recent blog posts.
There’s one thing I haven’t said in these posts that I want to make clear now: I have no complaints about how I was treated by the people in the two churches where I served as a pastor. Almost without exception everyone was kind, gracious, and patient toward the young, inexperienced pastor I was. They certainly gave me a lot of grace, and for that I will always be thankful.
I’ve read statistics showing that many former pastors and some currently serving pastors feel poorly treated by the churches they’ve served. That’s not the case with me. If anything, the two churches I served treated me better than I deserved.
I just want to make that abundantly clear. The people in the Presbyterian churches I served, as well as the church I grew up in, were for the most part always kind and loving toward me. My issue was not with the people, but more with the teachings and practices of the churches and the denomination. I felt (and still feel) as though the atmosphere in these churches stifles the freedom and expressiveness of the Holy Spirit, and of sound biblical teaching.
I usually don’t tell people I left the ministry. I believe every Christian is called to ministry in some form or fashion. Even if someone works a “regular” full-time job, as believers we’re still called to serve as a witness for God in our workplaces, in our families, in our neighborhoods, and to serve those around us. So instead, I usually say I left “formal ministry” or “paid ministry.” I think it’s an important distinction.
There were several reasons I stopped being a pastor. One was because I felt the need to devote more time and energy to my music, which I’ve done since that time. I’ve served in some capacity as a volunteer worship leader in every church I’ve attended since then. I’ve even taught guitar lessons at times, though I’m not sure I’m really proficient enough on the guitar to teach anything besides the very beginning basics. I’ve also recorded some of my original songs (I’ve written or co-written about 80 in all), and have tried to do more to get my songs “out there” for people to hear. I’m currently playing some of my songs “out” at open mics and songwriter contests in hopes of seeing what I can do with those. If you’d like to hear some of my original music follow this link to my music page: http://www.reverbnation.com/morgantrotter
Some of the other reasons I left pastoral ministry I’ve already alluded to in previous posts, but one of the chief reasons was something I’ve rarely shared: My motives for becoming a pastor were mixed and complex. On the one hand I wasn’t interested in any sort of secular work. I wasn’t the least bit interested in business. I had considered becoming a counselor but ultimately concluded psychology was such a secular field I wouldn’t be able to do what I wanted to do through it, which was to help people and serve God in my work at the same time. (That was in the days before Christian psychology became an accepted and popular field.)
By the same token, I wasn’t sure I could cut it in the secular working world. Almost all the work I’d done up to that point had been church-related. I’d only worked one secular job before, and that only for a few months. On top of that I’d been picked on and teased a lot in public school, and had experienced the church as one place in which I felt somewhat more accepted. I really dreaded experiencing a similar kind of rejection in the secular business world.
So I continued to gravitate towards work in the church. I thought the church would be kinder and more accepting than the business world. And now having worked a great deal of the last 14 years in the secular marketplace I can say that for the most part I was right.
However, the whole time I was a pastor I was dogged by the awareness I’d avoided secular work out of fear. So one of several reasons I left formal ministry was because I wanted to finally face that fear.
Still, I had no idea what I wanted to do. When I made the decision to leave formal ministry, there was no “Plan B.” My college degree was in Psychology which, along with $1, will buy you a cup of coffee (unless you’re at Starbucks, in which case not even that). While I do also have a seminary Masters degree, that’s pretty much only valued in the church. (I’ve since found that a seminary education can actually be a hindrance in getting secular employment, despite the fact that it’s a Masters.)
I won’t bore you with all the details at this point. After leaving formal ministry, my first couple of jobs were in factories but they each only lasted a couple months because I think it was obvious I was overqualified and not really suited for that type of work. But I was glad for the experience.
Since that time I’ve mostly worked a series of office jobs, though I did do some warehouse work as well, and one job in construction. I also taught guitar lessons for a while, too. The office jobs have been with a phone company, a safety equipment company, and in healthcare.
I have learned a few things along the way. On the positive side I overcame my fears about working in the secular marketplace. I’ve done a lot of things I never thought I could do, with no glaring failures. So I’ve learned I’m capable of a lot more than I ever imagined.
There have been some hard lessons, though, too. For one thing, I learned it’s harder to change careers than I thought, especially if you don’t have a lot of transferable skills. The longer you’re in a career the more expertise you have, and I learned there’s really no substitute for that kind of time and experience in a given field. When you change careers you’re basically starting over again at the entry level, as though you were fresh out of high school or college. There may be some credit given for life experience, and perhaps that has helped me get the job in a few cases. But I haven’t seen that life experience matters that much to a lot of employers. There’s no substitute for longevity in a field. Ironically, a lot of companies don’t value that kind of longevity anymore, but that’s a topic for another blog post.
One of the most frustrating things has been that since I left formal ministry, I haven’t found my college degree to be of much value. The sheer fact that I had one might have helped me get a couple of my jobs, but so far I haven’t been able to get a single job that requires a college degree (or pays commensurate with one either). I’m living proof that a liberal arts degree is of very little value in the business world.
So I wish I could say that the life-changing spiritual experiences I had in the late ’90s solved all my problems, but I really can’t. I can say this, though: If I hadn’t met Jesus personally in 1998 and been mentored by some Christian men who made a lasting difference in my life, I’m not sure I would be sane or maybe even alive today. There were some very dark times before my born again experience when I seriously questioned if I was going to lose my sanity. Getting to know God in a more intimate and personal way through receiving Christ and the Holy Spirit into my heart, and becoming more grounded in the love of God, has made all the difference in my life.
After my born again experience (see Part 1 for more about that; the link for it is at the beginning of this post) I began to be mentored by a non-denominational pastor named David Moore as well as a couple other key men, and this made a huge difference in my life. David in particular taught me a number of Scripture passages that were largely overlooked in my Presbyterian upbringing and my seminary training. He encouraged me to steep myself in the books of Ephesians and Colossians, which are all about our identity in Christ, as well as in the gospel of John.
David also called my attention to 2 Peter 1:3-11, really an astounding passage if you consider its true meaning. Somehow I had never noticed this passage before he pointed it out to me:
3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
10 Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
These verses say some amazing things: God has already given us everything we need for life and godliness through knowing Christ, and if we trust in His great and precious promises we will actually participate in the divine nature (!) and be enabled to escape the corruption of the world. Remarkable!!
A few other key passages David called to my attention: Ephesians 2:6-8 ~
6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
Colossians 3:1-3 ~
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”
Those verses all talk about our position in Christ.
There are many other verses I could list which David showed me and helped me better understand. He also pointed me to a lot of great books that helped ground me in Christ and also bring healing to my emotional wounds. Some authors I came to appreciate based on his recommendation are John Eldredge, Leanne Payne, Henri Nouwen, Eugene Peterson, and Calvin Miller, not to mention a number of lesser known but equally helpful ones. More than any of that, though, David also invested his time and friendship in my life, and for those gifts I will always be grateful.
I also ought to say something about my involvement in church ever since I left formal ministry. In the year 2000, after I left the church I had pastored, I never regularly attended another Presbyterian congregation. Instead I began to attend Hope church, a small non-denominational church pastored by David Moore whom I mentioned above. In 2004 I finally decided to give up my ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA) so I could officially cut ties with that denomination and join Hope church. Hope taught a mix of evangelical and charismatic beliefs. The people of the church are just great, and became very dear to me.
I was actively involved there for about 8 years, after which time for a variety of reasons I sensed God releasing me to leave Hope. Among other things, there were few unmarried people like me there and I had come to miss the fellowship of other singles. I had previously been involved in the singles ministry of a large Evangelical Free church in town so I decided to visit there again. I wound up attending that E-V-Free church from 2009 until I moved back to Huntsville in 2011, and made many great and supportive friends there as well.
All those years I felt like I had only been flirting with the charismatic movement. When I moved back to Huntsville I decided it was time for me to “jump in the river” as they say, so I decided to seek out a charismatic church to attend. Over time God seemed to lead me to the church I currently attend, a small non-denominational charismatic church I’ve gone to for the last two years. The people there are wonderful and have welcome this old traditionalist with open arms.
I won’t deny that it’s kind of hard in the church as a single person. I’ve never married–not for lack of desire, but it’s just never seemed to work out for me to do so. I’m probably too picky, and also I suspect I’m a bit of an acquired taste (lol).
I also won’t deny that since I left the safety and security of the traditional church I’ve had a hard time finding my niche in the church. I’m too charismatic for the traditional church, and probably a bit too old-fashioned and traditional for the charismatic church as well. I also find I’m too charismatic for the evangelicals and a little too evangelical for the charismatics. Please understand, though–I’m not blaming anyone else–the problem is probably with me rather than anyone else.
I now live back in the city I was raised in, and my dad still goes to the Presbyterian church I grew up in, so sometimes I attend with him, especially on holidays and the like. They still receive me very warmly, like one of their kids has come back home. They’ve been very supportive and appreciative of my music, and have even invited me a couple times to lead worship for their contemporary service. I’m grateful to still have those ties and relationships after all these years, and after all the water that’s passed under the bridge.
So–I don’t claim to have all the answers or that the experiences I had 15 years ago solved all my problems. But I can say with confidence that those experiences were a turning point in my life for the better that took me out of the place of trying to live the Christian life by personal effort (which is impossible) and into the place of beginning to allow Christ himself to be my life. If there’s anything I learned from my time with David Moore and Hope church (and I learned a lot), it’s that being a Christian is not something I do, it has to be something I allow Christ and the Holy Spirit to do in me. The only hope we have of living as God would have us live is by allowing Him to live through us. It’s His effort, not mine. My job is simply to cooperate with Him and obey His leading. A very different approach from trying to perform in my own strength.
There is much more I could share, but I will end it here. Thank you for taking the time to read this series.