I have confessed here before that I was in a career I often didn’t understand or felt suited for. I was a Baptist minister for more than 20 years. I met some loving, beautiful people in those years. I dedicated babies. I watched toddlers turn into teens and I loved them all. Some of them I married with spouses I thought were perfect for them. Many are still together with children of their own.
In my last congregation, I spent nearly 14 years with people I adored. Some of them are still my closest friends.
There were, of course, tough years, times when my own search for an authentic theology and philosophy of ministry clashed with the long-held traditional beliefs of some of our church members. By the time I arrived at my last congregation I no longer had any interest in building huge numbers, baptizing people in some kind of competition with other churches, and creating worship that was hyped, emotional, something similar to cheerleading and entertainment. That was not for me.
I wanted to give thoughtful sermons and make worship sacred, a place to think, contemplate life, be open to love, and find connections with others. I was not interested in salvation. Or getting people to rededicate their lives to Jesus because they had committed some sin the week before. In the Baptist tradition, the minister stands at the altar at the end of his sermon and invites people to the front to pray with him, to confess their sins, or to accept Christ as their Savior. I was never comfortable with any of that. Over the years people stood there and told me things that should have been shared in private, not with a crowd of people standing around waiting to go to lunch.
I was not an Evangelical. I did not believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. I could not accept the reality of a hell where people are tormented forever. I really wasn’t even a Baptist. I grew up one. My father was a Baptist minister. I was a young, impressionable teen who didn’t think I was capable of much. The church was all I knew. So I felt compelled to give my life to God in service to…I wasn’t sure what. People? Jesus? Society? The Church?
After seminary, I found the courage to explore my faith. I wanted my beliefs about God and Jesus and Scripture to be mine. I no longer wanted to carry around the beliefs of others who expected me to follow their rigid doctrine of biblical interpretation and moral rules.
Seminary was a huge learning experience. As was my doctoral work where I studied with people of all faiths and backgrounds and religious ideas and questions. It was intellectually stimulating, spiritually challenging, and emotionally refreshing.
When I eventually left the ministry after a painful divorce and leaving a congregation I loved, I floundered about looking for work that provided some security and where I could use the skills I had developed over the years as a public speaker, a writer, and a leader of others. It was a dark and lonely time filled with self-doubts, and a sense that I had lost touch with myself.
Thankfully, my sons, who were boys at the time, were amazingly resilient, determined, and loving and have grown into men I am unable to adequately tell how proud I am of them. It sounds immodest, but they are extraordinary men. That they turned out so well helped me traverse my own difficult transition.
Eventually, I found my way to work I enjoy and that uses the skills and interests that are my own.
There is little I miss about career ministry and the institutional church. It all seems now so politicized, profane, and insensitive to real human needs or to any of the dynamic and challenging teachings of Jesus. In fact, so much of institutional church today is focused on all the opposite concerns of Jesus.
It was Horace Mann, the great education reformer, who said, “Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.” That seems to me to be the way our politics and religion are going these days. It saddens and disgusts me.
On the bright side, many are now weary of a totally corrupted political system and empty religion bewitched with indecent greed and cruel power. In time, perhaps the tables will turn, an apt metaphor of Jesus-anger, at both political and religious scams, and citizens and voters will demand transformation.
© 2017 Timothy Moody