The Bell Family

Random ponderings on God, life, and the humor all around us

Why I “Left the Ministry”

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This post has been a long time coming.  Many have asked over the last nine months why I stopped going to seminary, stepped down from vocational ministry, and went into the business world.  My answer is neither extremely easy or simple.  But I will try to lay it out there as concisely and straightforwardly as possible.

I first went into vocational ministry as an interim music minister in Paducah when I was twenty years old.  I filled that position for sixteen months until a godly man was found to take over permanently.  Incidentally, this took place a month before Court and I packed ourselves up to move to Louisville for seminary.  Within a month of relocating, I accepted the position of music and media director at a church thirty minutes from the seminary.  So, there I was: a young seminary student, eager to learn and serve in ministry to others.  But what I know now that I didn’t know then was how stained by sin I was (and still am, really).  I hid the fact that one of the reasons I wanted to go to seminary was so that I could be the first person in my family to earn a master’s degree.  I hid the fact that my desire to “minister” was really a desire to appear wise and holy before a bunch of people who “obviously” weren’t as smart as me.  The only thing I was ministering to was my sinfulness.

But I didn’t realize this at the time.  I very, very foolishly had a high opinion of myself and the giftings God had given me.  It took a year and a half for me to begin to feel the rising levels of bitterness and discontentedness in my heart.  This, I’m sure, wasn’t helped by working midnights on the side, but I simply used that as my excuse.  I became quite convinced that there was something missing in my life and I finally began to see what it was, beginning with a conference I attended.  What was I missing?  Christ and him crucified.  To put it starkly, I saw in myself a pitiful faith that didn’t look to Christ, but looked to and depended on myself. 

Over the next months, I discovered more and more this horrible pattern in my life.  Yet, sadly, instead of humbling me and growing my faith, I became even more arrogant because I thought I knew what was really going on.  So, I became even angrier, which showed itself in decreasing love for others and an extremely divisive spirit.  After seeing myself grow worse and after a rather terrible experience (brought about by my own actions, by the way), I realized that my lack of faith and flat-out spiritual immaturity disqualified me from being in any kind of leadership position in a church.  I knew that I had no business doing what I was doing.  So, I announced my intention to step down because of my great pride and immaturity.  I remember one gentleman whom I respect greatly telling me that the heart I had expressed in my announcement demonstrated that I should be in ministry, because my actions showed humility and a heart that could lead others.  I know what he meant, but I knew that even if my actions had been humble, it was only the tip of the iceberg regarding the sinful tendencies that shrouded me.  I saw that I was young, both in spiritual immaturity and actual years.  I saw that I had only the smallest sliver of faith where my faith should have trusted and thanked God for every single thing in my life.  I saw that I was much more concerned with my glory than his glory.

As for seminary, I realized that my problems were spiritual in nature and I needed spiritual healing.  Though seminary offers many great things, it is only an academic institution.  It is not a church.  And it is not a place for spiritual growth.  That can happen, but that’s not what it really does.  I didn’t need to learn more stuff–I needed King Jesus.   So, I stopped.  Besides, I was just really tired of school and I was doing terribly because of it.  So, it just seemed to be a good time given all the circumstances at the time.

So, what was the new plan with no “ministry” and no seminary?  Well, basically the same as it is now.  First, to become a Christian in the fullest sense of that noble name–not a seminary student or a minister or a pastor or a husband or a father.  I wanted to gladly and palpably wear Christ.  Second, to learn how to minister without “the ministry.”  You may have noticed that I put “Left the Ministry” in quotation marks in the title.  That’s because every Christian ministers.  Every Christian serves.  And so, we’re trying to learn how to serve and minster without a title or a paycheck.  Third, to grow in faith in the only thing worth having faith in: God the Father, Son, and Spirit.  Without faith, it is impossible to please God.  Faith is our only door to a righteousness that makes us right with God.  Faith is the only thing that will get us through any circumstance, whether high or low.  To put it differently, I needed to learn how to trust moment by moment in the cross of Christ.  I needed to learn that any good work I did was a good work prepared beforehand by God in me and for me to do.  I needed to see each time I tried to prove myself, I was showing that I wasn’t really proving Christ.  I needed to learn what it means to love those that hate me or think little of me, to love the “sinners” all around me.  Fourth, I needed to know what it meant to be a “normal” Christian.  My Christianity had been defined by my status as a seminarian or a minister.  I needed to see if I could be a Christian in the place where most Christians exist: the real world.  I’ll talk a little bit more about that tomorrow

Well, I may have left some stuff out.  And I may have explained some things badly.  This is a difficult thing for me to write, because it still strikes my heart.  I’m ashamed of myself.  If you were there for any of what I described, then please forgive me.  But I hope you’ll see that this is just me exposing my heart to you.  And I hope it answers some questions some of you may have had.

Still, some of you may think that I did the wrong thing.  If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts because I’m convinced it was exactly what was needed.  Either way, no church needed someone like me leading it.  And no seminary class was going to fix my cold heart.  It’s down to me and Jesus (which includes, by the way, his body–thank God for Sojourn Church!).  And I’m praying that he’ll change me to make me like him. 

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7 thoughts on “Why I “Left the Ministry”

  1. Bill

    David would 100% agree with you about seminary. Sometimes we wonder how people even grow in such an environment. So many expectations are heaped upon seminary students, not to mention students with families. God really opened the door for us to serve Him in New Mexico, but I think he also knew (and we knew) that our family was suffering terribly because of school, because of UPS (midnights!), and so many other things.

    David has made the comment to me before that the people he feels thrive best in seminary are those who had steady, well-paying jobs BEFORE they came to seminary. We knew many families who had so much money saved up for seminary that they didn’t have to work and could focus solely on family and education.

    David feels called to get his Biblical Counseling degree, but it will be a long time in the making!

  2. Bill, Thank you for sharing your heart. I will be praying for your family and you as you lead it.

  3. In reverse order:

    Becky, thanks for the encouragement and your prayers. The prayers of a righteous man (or woman, in this case) are powerful and effective, and I always welcome them.

    Mandy, I remember talking with David about similar struggles we were having with seminary. It took me a while to realize that there’s nothing inherently wrong with seminary–I was the one that was wrong. I originally thought that seminary would be this breeding ground for spirituality. I finally figured out that seminary is first and foremost a theological instituion, a school. It’s not a church and it never will be. If I want to find a breeding ground of spirituality, the place to look is not a school, but the church of Christ. It serves an important purpose and I gained immensely from it, but it wasn’t the church.

    But that was really a side issue. Ultimately, we came to the conviction that Christian growth happens not in school, but in real life and through the church as we learn to lean fully on the Gospel every day. I was looking to seminary when I should have been looking to Christ, which certainly wasn’t Southern’s fault.

  4. eek! I hope I didn’t make Southern, or any other seminary, look bad. We don’t think seminary is bad, but we do think that they have high expectations of their students. God first, family second, church third, job next, then school. Some of the demands of seminary make it VERY VERY difficult to keep it in that order. Does that make sense?

  5. I certainly understand. My experience definitely proved that seminary is quite difficult and, if I could do it again, I would have taken fewer hours each semester. A friend of mine who has a family and works full-time jokes that he’s on the ten-year plan (which isn’t really a joke) because he’s doing just that. 😀

    For me, across the board, the experiences that I relayed proved to me my immaturity and selfishness. I was so wrapped up in myself and my ambition that I tried to do everything and succeeded at almost nothing. I was living a self-led life, not a Christ-led, faith-filled life. And my failures and constant grumbling and anger revealed that. Praise God that he is molding this extremely stubborn lump of clay.

  6. Bill is hot! That was just bursting to be said. I want to commend my husband to all of you who read this blog. He has been in pursuit of humility and gospel-centered living more than anyone I have ever seen in the past year or so. He has diligently prayed for God’s grace in his and his family’s lives, and I believe God revealing the above things to him was God showing him grace and answering his prayers.

    I married the most amazing man I had ever met four years ago, but I had no idea he would become more and more amazing with each passing year. Praise you, God, for a husband who constantly seeks you, loves and leads his family with humility and wisdom, and brings me unimaginable joy! I love you, Darling!

    I have never walked with my head as high as the day Bill resigned from the church we were at, and it was a hard, hard day. It was the day I got to hold on to the arm of the man who desired the Spirit’s indwelling so much that he was willing to give up a position of leadership that brought him much praise and honor. He wanted, and still wants, to be in the shadows so he could more clearly see God’s radiant light. Wow! What amazing grace that God gave him to one as undeserving as me.

  7. God said to Abraham, “start walking”. Abraham “Where to Lord?” God, “I will tell you later.” Abraham, “But what will I tell my family?” God, “That I said to start walking.” Abraham, “But how will they contact or find me when they need me?” God, “Keep your focus on me, I will take care of the your family and the rest of your worries. I have plans for you.” Abraham, “What are they?” God, “I will tell you later, keep walking.”

    Such is the life of a Christian and what we are called to do, which is live by faith. Ephesians 2:10 says that God has a plan for for all of us. It took God 25 years to prepare Abraham to raise his son Isaac. It took several more years to prepare Abraham to sacrifice his only son. It took Moses 80 years for God prepare him to lead the people of Israel and still Moses had challenges. It took God several years to rid Joseph of his pride and prepare him to rule. Patience is a hard thing for all of us. We focus too much on getting to the end of the journey when God is more concerned about the journey. He knows what the end will be.

    Thanks for sharing. Enjoy the journey. You have “started walking”. May God continue to bless you and your family.

    Dan

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