Why I Quit Pastoral Ministry


(system) #1

When I was seventeen, I decided that I wanted to be a pastor. Several important people in my life encouraged me in that direction, and I went to college to learn how. After graduating with a religious studies degree, replete with "expertise" in biblical languages, theology, ethics and Ellen White's writings, I spent two years in Bangkok, Thailand as a chaplain and Bible teacher before pursuing a master's degree in religion and ethics at La Sierra University. When I graduated from La Sierra, Southeastern California Conference hired me as a pastor. I was living the dream.

After four years as a pastor, most of them at the Azure Hills Church with an excellent group of pastors and a second-to-none assemblage of college students and young media technicians with whom I ministered, I quit pastoral ministry in October of this year.

Leaving work in arguably the best conference in the Adventist denomination was not an easy decision, but the deciding factor for me was the need for independence. During my time in ministry, I was constantly aware of the church's expectations on me. I felt as though there was an expectation that I would toe the proverbial party line, that some topics of conversation were off the table, and that I would represent the denomination's thinking in my interactions with my parishioners. Without anyone telling me in so many words, I had the strong sense that someone else had already set the parameters of my conversations for me.

When Spectrum offered me a full-time position managing the website, I jumped at the chance. My experience of Spectrum, since I first discovered copies of the journal in the stacks of Southwestern Adventist University's Chan Shun Centennial Library, was that it represented the Independent Voice in Adventism.

That's what Spectrum offers a denomination that can feel tightly scripted at times: Truthful journalism. Smart analysis. Thoughtful features. An independent voice, and community through conversation.

Since I started my work as managing editor of the site, I've worked alongside a great team of storytellers, editors, interns, moderators and technical experts who are committed to providing quality content on our website. We're growing, too. Our readership is growing, the quantity of material we publish is on the rise, and we're expanding our coverage of some of our denomination's biggest topics. Specifically, in 2015, we are planning to emphasize four big topics:

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6448

(Lowen Gartner) #2

Ryan Bell and friends await you with open arms.


(Kim Green) #3

At least the arms are open, lowen_gartner…


(Vera W ) #4

That’s quite an assumption, Lowen.


(Pagophilus) #5

What exactly did you expect? This is where calling comes in. It takes more to be a minister than desire. Desire is great, but how about submission - first to God, then to the denomination who, faulty as they are, are the people God is working through. May I add submission to the advice/guidance offered by God’s prophet Ellen White. It takes more than ideas to be a successful minister. It takes the leading of the Holy Spirit, and if the Holy Spirit leads, then we follow. It is a submissive relationship. Independence doesn’t quite fit into that picture.


(Pagophilus) #6

So, as a minister, did you largely agree with the positions taken by Spectrum writers in regard to creation/evolution, homosexuality, investigative judgment, Ellen White’s role as a prophet etc, or did you take the denomination’s historic view? The answer could be enlightening.


(Richard Ludders) #7

Everyone, including myself, have their own idea of what the denomination’s historic view is of the four subjects you listed. What is your take of the denomination’s historic view? What is it?


(Pagophilus) #8

My take is not important. What is important is God’s view - what comes out of a straightforward racing of the Bible, augmented by the helpful clarifications of Spirit of Prophecy as expressed in the writings of Ellen White. From those, we glean that:

Creation (of the earth/solar system at least) around 6000 years ago, God created the “kinds” and He did it in six literal days, homosexuality is roundly condemned (the Bible knows nothing of it as an orientation - it tells us that humans have a sinful nature and God offers to save us from our sins), the investigative judgment began in 1844 at the end of the 2300 day/years, and Ellen White was given the prophetic gift, i.e. she gave us messages from God.

This is all standard Adventism.


(Allen Shepherd) #9

Hmmm…

Well, I suspect the church desires employees that support its goals and beliefs. If you can’t do that, it is the honorable thing to quite, quit in contrast to some who undermine from within.

I have never felt as you did. I work for Jesus rather than the denomination, and am in agreement with the beliefs, so have no beef. They pay me to realize what God wants me to do. A pleasant arrangement as I see it. Your dissatisfaction and constant looking over your shoulder shows that you really had not bought into commitment to the Adventist church and I commend you for leaving and now can be honest.

There is a smidge of irony in the fact that you left and are now trying to raise money from members to support Spectrum, a magazine that does not have much of that. But there are many nonmembers here that will support the journal, so you will likely get what you are needing. Best of the holidays to you!


(Aage Rendalen) #10

“Islam” means “submission.” Islam bans questions (meta questions); it’s a religion of answers. And that is the most obvious reason why Islamic thinking is still stuck in the Middle Ages. The greatest gift Western civilization received was the freedom to question without fearing that the stewards of God’s answers would kill you. They used to do that. Fundamentalism is based on the idea that tradition is the voice of God and that God will eventually kill you if you question that basic truth (if his followers don’t spare him the trouble).

In an “Islamic” Christian setting, those who question tradition are obviously pushing the devil’s agenda. (Ironic, isn’t it, that, that all of these sacred traditions under attack by the devil are simultaneously seen as the work of the devil by fundamentalists who have a different sacred tradition. It’s only one’s own tradition that is sacred; the others have been cobbled together by the hyperactive Christian devil.)

Asking questions is fraught with risk; it led me to abandon faith. Still, if faith can only be preserved by sterilizing and canning it, it will die out on its own.

And finally, Christianity is a person, not a creed. Adventism is based on the premise that the grace of God can normally only be delivered through the dogmatic matrix of Adventism. The idea that Adventism is the spigot that dispenses the grace of God mimics the sacramental thinking of Catholicism (in whose tradition the grace of God is dispensed through the seven sacraments awarded it by God). This idea belongs on the trash heap of theology, and once it’s been chucked out, questions and debates can take place in a much safer environment.

Still, life is uncertain, and if you want absolute certainty, you need to take the route of Pago.


(Lowen Gartner) #11

:slight_smile: Comme d’habitude! The devil has a warm embrace (Excessive. Do not suggest someone else’s actions or motives were Satanic. Don’t even come close! That sort of judgement is always over the line. Entendu? - webEd) n’est pas?


(Allen Shepherd) #12

Well, the conference hired him; I can’t see how the church could have offered any thing greater in the open arm category. He is the one who left. His unease was from within, not without.


(Allen Shepherd) #13

Aage, you are absolutely wrong on this one. Members of other churches have received grace in many ways, even catholics. Adventism is a movement to warn the world of Jesus’ soon return. You don’t have to belong to receive grace. I think it helps, but it is not imperative. Other denominations have truth. I have benefited greatly from Yancy, Stott, Murray, and myriad other men from other denominations. We even practice open communion, showing that we respect other’s Christian commitment. If you are going to criticize, at least get the beliefs right.

And when I teach the lesson, on Sabbath, all I do is ask questions.


(Bill Garber) #14

So Allan, would you, and would your conference allow you to baptize a person who openly accepts Jesus as their Savior, but is unwilling to become a Seventh-day Adventist member by agreeing that they believe each of the 28 fundamental beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists?

Anything less tends to support Aage’s statement it seems to me.


(le vieux) #15

When one is baptized at a Baptist church, are they, or are they not expected to be a Baptist? Or can they run off and join the Methodists, Presbyterians, or Universalists? Just asking? Never been to a Baptist baptism.


(le vieux) #16

Funny, I’ve never noticed that. Our Sabbath School classes are all about asking questions and getting answers.

Like Allen, when I lead the lesson study discussion, I ask a lot of questions, and members also pose questions. Asking questions is how we learn. I have no problem with someone asking why we believe as we do. But that’s a far cry from being skeptical of our doctrines after the questions have been answered. “Questioning” our doctrines is not the same ask asking questions about our doctrines. All of our doctrines can be defended from Scripture, but since some of them are out of sync with mainstream Protestantism (what’s left of it) and Evangelical Christianity, we need to be able to give reasonable answers. There was a time when most Adventists could do so. Sadly, that is no longer the case.


(le vieux) #18

“the best conference”?? Really? The conference which allowed La Sierra to openly teach evolution as fact, rather than as a theory which is incompatible with the Bible, and which was one of the leaders in rebellion against denominational policy on ordination? And even that wasn’t enough “freedom?”

Could it also be that the source of the problem was a confused view of what it means to be a minister of the Gospel? Even the apostle Paul didn’t have the kind of independence you were looking for. He fought a stern battle with self. It sounds as if you prefer the congregational model for churches. You must have known going in that that’s not how the SDA Church operates–fortunately. If it did, we’d have thousands of independent churches, all preaching a slightly different gospel. That might appeal to some, but it would make a worldwide work impossible.


(Allen Shepherd) #19

Baptizing without membership is like impregnating a woman and leaving her to raise the baby herself. Jesus said to baptize and teach them all he taught us. Because I teach Adventism, as i am convinced of it, does not make illegitimate another’s thinking. Now they may be wrong on some things, as I might be as well, Jesus will deal with us both.


(Lowen Gartner) #20

Dear webEd…I think you misunderstood my point completely. But I can understand why. Thank you for at least leaving the content visible so those that will understand have a chance to see it. God bless you!

(I tried to qualify a bit in case. Nonetheless, as you are new the point is important for all to know and on occasion we elaborate to have commenters digest it. - webEd)


(2nd Opinion) #21

Adventist higher education is certainly facing a critical set of questions and challenges, some of which are present in American higher education in general, others which are more specific to Christian universities and the Adventist context, in particular. However, I hope that Spectrum will be generally supportive in taking a close look at Adventist education with an eye to suggesting ways to improve and restructure the system. Adventist colleges and universities are about the only source of critical thinking left in Adventism–a value that the Association of Adventist Forums and Spectrum has always held high. We welcome you to the conversation and pray that your journalistic efforts will play a constructive role in the days ahead.