It’s been almost two years since I left.
For 25 years, I worked in the church as a pastor or a youth minister. For half my life, I led people in religious practices like worship, liturgy, Bible study, and prayer. For thirteen of those years, I preached almost every Sunday. Every week I studied and prepared, and crafted messages, hoping to awaken people to God’s love and grace. I even had some “success,” winning awards and honors for my work. Sometimes I loved being a pastor.
As my time in that role waned, however, I was lost. I felt less like myself than I ever had. It took me a while to admit this, but in my last few years as a pastor, I was barely hanging on. Maybe it was apparent to others around me, but I lost my passion for that work. I even wondered if it was all wasted effort. Was the pain worth it? Was the mental and spiritual trauma the cost of being a called and ordained minister of the gospel? All I know is when I looked in the mirror, the person I saw, and the person I am, was NOT the person many people (at least some of the most vocal ones) in the church wanted me to be.
I tried to hold the community together, with Jesus at the center. But with every racial and homophobic slur, every MAGA hat and mask debate, every conspiracy theory and January 6th apologist, every end-times, hellfire, missing the whole point of the gospel bit of rhetoric, I lost myself a little more. Holding on was killing me. Interestingly, while I grew more distant from my work as a pastor, I felt more authentic and alive. So, I knew it was time to leave.
Two years later, I like who I see in the mirror. I like who I am. My faith still feels fresh and renewed. I miss people, even the ones with whom I can't entirely agree. I miss preaching sometimes, but I don’t miss being a pastor. I feel more like myself now than ever. And isn’t that the point?
“The only and single purpose of religion is to lead you to an experience of your true self in God… Your true self is who you are in the heart and mind of God… how God sees you.”
— Richard Rohr