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2009 April 4
by Mike

I entered Harding University in the fall of 1974 as a Bible major. My studies of scripture and of the Greek language began immediately, and it was thrilling. A year or two later I had my first homiletics (preaching) class with Jerry Jones.

Fast forward to the spring of 1982 — after four years at Harding, a year of internship, and three years at Harding Graduate School — and my first full-time ministry began in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Since that spring, I’ve been a preacher. Minister. Dare I say it: “pastor”? I’ve preached, taught, studied, visited hospitals, done weddings and funerals, and walked toward Jesus with people. It’s been a great honor.

Beginning this summer, that will change. Oh, I’ll still be a minister — joining Landon Saunders in this exciting project (and as every Christ-follower is anyway!). But not a — what? — “local minister.” And I wonder if I’ve underestimated what that will do to my sense of identity. The rhythm will be different.

I know so many people, even among my circle of friends, who have made career changes. (Wince. I still don’t like to think of ministry as a career. But in one sense it certainly is. A calling. A service. A privilege. A career.) Most of them affirm that it was the right thing to do — but not always without a bit of identity crisis.

I’m going to try not to be a version of Charleton Heston, forcing people to pry the lectern from my cold, dead hands. I’m eager to find my place in the local body of Christ that is, well, less visible but equally important. Think: 1 Corinthians 12!

Anyone else out there made a mid-course change? What have you learned that’s been helpful?

(Back to “Lost History” series tomorrow or Monday.)

28 Responses leave one →
  1. David Mitchell permalink
    April 4, 2009

    I made a career change from preaching to the classroom two years ago. Yes, there was a bit of an identity crisis for me. I have found the High School classroom to be missional. I am fifty years old and spend over twenty years in full time ministry with local congregations. There is an enormous need for mature, well-grounded people to teach. Ministry continues for me in a different context.

  2. April 4, 2009

    After five wonderful years with the honor of playing the role of Jesus in our city’s annual Christmas Pageant at the Civic Center, the change in notoriety was pretty stark when qb stepped away from it a couple of years back. It was back to the short-haired, anonymous rank and file, and it’s been pretty great. It’s not the same thing as stepping away from clergidom, I guess, but similar in a limited way.

    It was odd. The most obvious, immediate change was the “loss” of deferential treatment – “being called `Rabbi’ in the marketplace” – which was more of a gain, really. Expectations vanish, and it’s back to the world of the ordinary schlub, just trying to scratch out a meaningful way of discipleship.


  3. April 4, 2009

    David – Nothing could be more missional.

    QB – Love that phrase: “just trying to scratch out a meaningful way of discipleship.” I’ll remember taht!

  4. Larry James permalink
    April 4, 2009

    Mike, if your experience is like mine, the biggest adjustment will involve your coming to grips with your new found freedom to act and act quickly, effectively and with more risk as a living possibility, no, reality–you know, SOP! The pace will quicken and you’ll wake up in a couple of years and say to yourself, “Wait a minute, I can do whatever faith allows! There are very few limits except those that I impose on myself!” I for one will enjoy observing your journey in this next phase.

  5. April 4, 2009

    Mike, through your blog and Wineskins and your messages at lectureships and your books, you have been much more than a “local minister” for many years.

    Not unlike the apostle Paul, I should think.

  6. April 4, 2009

    I worked as a Park Supt. for years until I knew that preaching was what I needed to be doing. The transition was difficult but the rewards have been great. Reinventing yourself at any age is scary. My guess would be that your minstry today is much different that it was in the beginning. I beleive your minstry has evolved to where you now have been called to a different audience through different means. It will be exciting to see the lives you touch at home and on the www. Your blog has brought sanity to my world many times in the past five years. Thank you for following God!

  7. Rachel permalink
    April 4, 2009

    Hi, Mike. Forgive me if I missed it, but what are you transitioning to? Are you beginning a new career or retiring? I hope that your blog will continue??? I know that you’ll be a blessing no matter what your official or unofficial title will be. You always are. May God pour out His blessings on you in your new place in this world.

  8. April 4, 2009

    Thanks, Rachel. You can read more about it here:

  9. Kathy permalink
    April 4, 2009

    Mike, I know your angst having walked beside my dad as he stepped down from pulpit teaching/preaching/pastoring. The identity change was probably the most difficult for him, but as has been mentioned above, he found a new freedom in individual teaching/pastoring that preaching had not allowed him. He felt more personal identity with the ‘pew sitters’ searching for personal ministry. You will not have that difficulty. Your new ministry has already been set. Personally, I truly believe you will find more opportunities in the pastoring side of your ministry in this new venture. I’m excited for you and have prayed for you, knowing how much you love preaching and it will be difficult giving up that part of your ministry. However, as these young people begin to see that you not only talk the talk in reaching out to them, but honestly walk that same walk, how blessed they will be and that void of no longer preaching will be filled to overflowing with the challenges and blessings of this new venture.
    One thing though, if you think you’ll escape being my pastor/teacher/friend,think again, Kiddo! πŸ˜‰

  10. Beth permalink
    April 4, 2009

    When my husband left preaching, it was an identity crisis for me. In the congregations where we worked, showers, receptions, pot lucks…most of the social life of the congregation, including youth activities, was either coordinated through me or organized by me. This was the life of a minister’s wife in many small and mid-sized congregations until fairly recent years…and I loved doing it. (At that time many congregations would not hire a man whose wife chose to work outside the home.) We were still raising our family, and after the initial shock of not automatically being in charge of events, I found that even in a large congregation, I could still be very active in the youth group, assist with other social events…only now I have lots of help! His change of career did not mean an end to the dreams I had of being a full-time homemaker, mom, Bible class teacher, and hostess/helper for those who needed me…it just meant a little change in direction.

  11. Jana Beck permalink
    April 4, 2009

    I’d just like to say that the current change of identity in your blog (the new picture at the top) is making me hungry every time I read your posts.
    Don’t exactly know what that has to do with anything. But, I may be making a quick “Bueno run” now that I’ve checked your post for the day.

    Thanks, I think.

  12. April 4, 2009

    When I left the ministry it was more of a “I gotta get out of here” than a “Oh, this is where I should be” type thing. However, I have found my calling in the human services field where I have been a substance abuse counselor, CPS worker, advocate for the disabled, mental health therapist, and group home manager. I feel like I am doing God’s work here and now and will graduate with a master of social work degree next month. I couldn’t be happier.

  13. April 5, 2009

    “Privilege” is the word I always use when helping hurting families during funerals and counseling… It is my privilege.

    Why God would select me, who knows? But I always make sure I let everyone know it is a privilege to be called upon.

  14. Coping permalink
    April 5, 2009

    A few years after your great-grandfather retired from a lifetime of practicing medicine, he fell and broke his hip. Then he fell and broke the other hip. He never walked again. Sometime during his nine years as an invalid, he told me it was too bad he hadn’t had those accidents earlier on in his life, as he would have had much more patience with his patients.

    Moral? I don’t know. Perhaps there is always a time to learn more about ourselves and others as we move on in life, especially in new directions.

  15. Kathy permalink
    April 5, 2009

    Moral? I don’t know. Perhaps there is always a time to learn more about ourselves and others as we move on in life, especially in new directions.

    That’s a great mom you’ve go there, Mr. Mike! πŸ™‚ What a treasure!!

  16. Doug Sanders permalink
    April 5, 2009

    Hey Mike – I’ve been keeping up with some of your blogs from a distance but this change of your’s and your call for people who’ve made mid-life changes prompted me to respond. I’ve taken the other route and after 26 years in the business world I left that and followed the call into church business which then evolved from administration to ministry. I always felt that creating ice cream flavors was the best job in the world. Now I’ve found my calling and those aren’t the same thing. My prayer for you is that this change in roles completes you as much as my change has continued to make me more of who I believe I was created to be. It’s a journey and my mantra is evolving to continually ask the question, Is what I’m about to do going to help me look more like Jesus? As you prepare to take the your next step may you always be able to answer that question with a yes!!

  17. Joanne permalink
    April 5, 2009

    Mike, I admire you greatly.
    #1 To bring such a wonderful opportunity into your life for you and your family.
    #2 For having the courage to make a change, and make a difference.
    What a great role model you are to your children and many others.

  18. Deb permalink
    April 5, 2009

    Some lessons I have been learning:

    — A career/ vocation should never define the person.
    — Never turn your hobby into a job.
    — One’s passion is a unique design by God that needs little explanation to others because only He and you will fully understand it. Well, He might understand it fully: you grow towards a deeper understanding of this passion as you allow His guidance and apply patience in the process.
    — When you move out of your country of origin, God truly enjoys showing you how the matrix of this passion He gifted you with is viewed in a different context, through a different lens.
    — Things once valued – personal history, titles, tools, fashions, plans, and resources – may no longer be relevant for the rest of your journey, and the new relationships you make along the way.

    Blessings to you and your family!

  19. April 6, 2009

    Fifteen years later I still have some difficulty listening to others preach. I am just too critical.

    The other aspects of ministry that I enjoyed so much have continued on in my chosen field of human resources. I am presented with opportunities for ministry every day.

    I still get asked to perform weddings each year and I have been honored to eulogize others.

    I have done some interim preaching in the Cleveland area for churches who were in between ministers and thus fulfilled that desire.

    But I think, at least for me, there was a sense of loss that need to be acknowledged…. you may experience it as well.

    I hope that you new opportunity with Landon will bring to VT more frequently. Right now it is mud season here….but it is still beautiful.


  20. Larry Wishard permalink
    April 6, 2009

    Thanks for the post as I too am going through a transition in Denver. Preacher for 26 years here and preaching a total of 40, (started young). Now asked by the Southeast Church here to serve as Elder/Preacher. Because your ministry is rooted in Jesus and teaching, I believe your transition will be easier than some. God uses new people and new people groups to expand His kingdom and the vision of Heartbeat can spread the gospel in new and exciting ways. For those drawn to teach young people and work with people in messy situations the harvest is always white.
    Larry Wishard

  21. clint permalink
    April 6, 2009

    I enjoyed being able to have a glass of wine at a restaurant but you will still be teaching at ACU. Guess you will have to continue drinking in your closet.

  22. April 6, 2009

    Clint, that was *really* funny.



  23. April 6, 2009

    I think it takes great courage and faith for the transition that you are making. I am proud of you. It would have been easier to stay where you are and ride out the years, but it was bold to make a change.

  24. Michael Polutta permalink
    April 7, 2009

    Mike, as mentioned before, your reach is far beyond Abilene. Your legacy as well.

    So, any chance you can get Landon to be a featured speaker at ZOE?

  25. April 8, 2009

    Mike, If you haven’t already, make sure you soak in Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith.” She tells the story of her transition from ministry to secular work beautifully.

  26. April 14, 2009

    Let me know where you will be posting your twitter hashtags and don’t forget an account for the ubergeeky seeking God.

  27. don permalink
    April 15, 2009

    After graduating from Harding with you, I changed careers last year, going to law school. It’s fun. At 53, I’m the third oldest person in my class of 160. (I still get no respect, though.) I’ ve been a studio musician, business manager, builder/architect, and fund raiser, and enjoyed about half of those positions. So far, I’m loving the student thing.

    Congrats on your new work. I know you’ll do great. And hoo-rah for jumping out there and following what you think you’re supposed to do.

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