Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I React to "Why It's Difficult for Pastors to Leave the Ministry"

My reactions to this article are individual in nature. Not everyone experiences this transition in the same way.

My reactions are also (relatively) unfiltered. In other words, I don't like all of them. I wish I could get to the end of the story and tie it all up in the neat bow, like some schlocky "Christian" movie. But that wish is both futile and stupid - what I feel is real and trying to pretend it isn't there is a spiritual & psychological mistake.

And with that, here are ten points from the Why It's Difficult for Pastors to Leave the Ministry... followed by my gut-level honest responses to them.
1. money: any other career change, it is very frightening to let your salary go. Even if it might be an insufficient one, it is still difficult to let go of your guaranteed income. Most pastors have no idea how they will provide support for themselves and their families if they leave. 
While most pastors have a truckload of "transferable skills", it can be very difficult to get companies (and especially HR departments) to recognize those skills & experiences because they are wrapped in "religious" clothing.

Both of my post-ministry jobs came through friends from the gaming community whose connections enabled people to see past the Southern Baptist-fried nature of my resume.
2. family: Especially if your family is Christian, they had so much pride in the fact that you were “serving the Lord“. Pastors will anticipate a great deal of disappointment from their families when they walk away from this very special calling that so many people took such delight in.   
In my case. this wasn't an issue - while my family has always been encouraging about my skills as a preacher, they also have enough history with church conflict and stresses to be understanding & supportive of our decisions.

One of the real blessings in this process has been the incredible support I've received from my family - both immediate & extended. They've been some of my biggest fans throughout my ministry... and my choice to step away hasn't lessened their encouragement.
3. self: When pastors get ordained, they, like me, vow that they will never, ever give up. They swear that they will serve the Lord and the church until death. To even think about surrendering this induces an incredible amount of personal shame.  
I wanted to argue with this one... I hate applying the word "shame" to myself. Yet there are difficult days when that's absolutely the best word to describe how I feel about choosing to leave ministry.

I know that I can serve the big C "church" as a layperson - as well as my particular little c "church". But there are still moments where I fell like I deserted - that I'm AWOL from the army of God.
4. theology: I always took great comfort from scriptures such as, “Run the race. Fight the good fight.” These passages helped me the worst of times to persevere. To quit the ministry evokes enormous feelings of spiritual failure.  
And it's not like your average pastor doesn't already struggle with feelings of spiritual failure. Imagine for a minute working & praying for God to move in the church you pastor... and for things to drift slowly backwards.

A personal story: I was profoundly struck back in the fall of 2010 by Steven Furtick's book on prayer, SUN STAND STILL. I began to pray for the church I was pastoring to grow numerically & spiritually - to double in size. In the next 2 years, I watched as the church actually lost numbers... and as the rising tide of expectations threatened to drown me and my family.

Couple that with the decision to (wisely) walk away - and the guilt is enough to drill a hole in your heart. I'm not suggesting that it should - but there are days when I can feel the bit pressing against me, waiting to bite and sink in.
5. vocation: Almost all the pastors I have known are very specially trained. They have focused their whole lives and educations on theology and ministry to others. It is feared that to walk away from the only job that employs these skills is to expose oneself to a completely unmarketable and unemployable position. Usually it requires retraining, which in itself is too daunting to face.  
This goes right along with #1... so much so that I'm choosing not to add anything more.
6. congregation: To leave the ministry is to walk away from the congregation that the pastor has served. It can feel like abandoning your family. In fact, some might accuse the pastor of being a false shepherd who abandons the sheep. To anticipate this painful separation is excruciating.  
Leaving NewLife after almost 10 years as pastor/shepherd/friend felt exactly like abandoning your family. As a whole, the congregation there was wonderful to myself, my wife & especially to my boys. 
7. enemies: Those who have questioned, ridiculed or even opposed the pastor’s ministry will suddenly have all the ammunition they need to say, “I told you so!” I’ve heard many times that leaving the ministry was proof that I shouldn’t have been a pastor to begin with. It feels like throwing in the towel, and there are people who love to cheer that demonstration of surrender.  
The question that haunts me: "Did I give up too quickly?" Intellectually, I know the answer - regardless of the reactions of those who did not support my leadership, it was the best choice for my family and for me. 

But emotionally, it still feels like I waved the white flag.
8. meaning: To leave most jobs doesn’t bear the weightiness that leaving the ministry does. Leaving the ministry carries an existential significance that shoots a resigning pastor into the darkest of nights because, as most pastors sense, their job wasn’t just a job, but an extension of their spiritual selves. Ministry is the expression of their convictions, and to leave the job appears to be the desertion of these core convictions.  
Darkest of nights: check.

Job wasn't just a job: check.

Expression of my convictions: check.

Feel like I deserted those core convictions: check.

Still the right thing to do: check.
9. waste: All pastors are taught and believe that they are planting seeds. They toil year after year with faith that one day their labor will bear fruit. To consider leaving the ministry is to consider relinquishing the garden and to leave it untended or under the care of another who doesn’t share the same commitments. All that work is gone to waste without any chance of sharing in the harvest, if it ever comes.  
This, thankfully, did not bother in the same way that some of these other issues did. I'm excited for NewLife under the leadership of Pastor Eric. And I know that my seed planting is not in vain, even if I don't get to see the "fruit" up close.

One of my ministry mentors was fond of quoting Elton Trueblood:

A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.
10. friends: When pastors leave the ministry, they leave friends. For one, they are walking away from their peers in ministry. They are quitting that team. But they are also walking away from people they’ve served through their births, baptisms, marriages, divorces, deaths, tragedies and spiritual pilgrimages. They are saying farewell to people they have loved in very significant ways, intuitively knowing that walking away from the community network will also endanger their chances of that ever happening again.  
Once again, while I'm deeply saddened by the loss of connection with folks in Fresno, I'm incredibly thankful for friends from across the U.S. and around the world who have supported us and cared for us in tangible and intangible ways.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Remembering Loyd

Sadly, I never got to meet Loyd Boldman... so, maybe the title isn't exactly correct. Maybe I'm remembering the profound effect of his music & artistry on my life.

The Greatest Christian Albums of All Time blog says it perfectly (in the process of naming all three Prodigal albums to the list):
All three of their album covers were spectacular. But it was the content, both musically and lyrically, that set Prodigal above their peers for the time. Where other artist bemoaned the struggles, pain and realities of life on this spinning globe, Prodigal placed themselves within that reality and expressed those struggles from one who is intimately aware and experienced with those struggles.
So, as Loyd went to be face-to-face with Jesus last week after a long recovery from a stroke and aggressive cancer, I just wanted to share some of his music/video work - remember, this is from the 80s... and in CCM, Loyd & Prodigal were blazing a new trail.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

This Is So Very, Very Wrong

As my faithful readers know, I am loath to refuse a sugar-y treat. My tastes when it comes to rich, fattening & or sweet foods are, shall we say, wide. 

But this... this is wrong on so many levels. 

I'm just thankful it's a limited edition and will go away to the Limited Edition Oreo Graveyard, along with Marshmallow Crispy Oreos, Fruit Punch Oreos, and the stomach-turning Candy Corn Oreos.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Classic: Invasion of the Peep Army

A few years back, my friend Jimbo was "inspired" by a message I preached (using Peep Science as a metaphor for eternal security - see for the original inspiration) and went out the week after Easter & bought 300 or so Peeps of various colors & types... and snuck into my office and, well, Peeped it out. Every flat surface in the place had a Peep on it.

In 2010, he outdid himself with the Invasion of the Peep Army.

The first Peep appeared on Saturday next to my bathroom sink. "Mark - We've missed you." His title was "Scout Peep" and he was an indication of things to come.

On Sunday morning while I was getting my sermon ready, Sandra delivered the second Peep to my office after I appropriated a doughnut from the adult Sunday School stash. "A good Peep is never afraid to eat with the enemy." This one claimed to be a "Secret Agent Peep."

Then, right before the worship service, I went to get my wireless microphone and found yet another advance Peep - the "Audio Surveillance Peep." The ominous message: "We are listening."

We went to the Archuleta's for Easter lunch (we're the special guest gringos to make the gringo son-in-law, T, feel less lonely!) :-) and when we returned, we spotted the first signs of the Peep invasion on our gate. Yes, that's Peeps rappelling into our backyard.

On closer examination, I found that these were "Special Forces Peeps." I wonder where they go to get their intensive training. (Maybe this explains why they're so difficult to find in the store 10 months out of the year.)

Once in the backyard, there were Peeps with parachutes hanging from a variety of places. Evidently, "Paratrooper Peeps" are not good at reaching the ground.

One Peep-a-Trooper even managed to get hung on the old garage light.

At first glance, I wasn't sure who this troop was advancing through the high grass of our side lawn.

Turns out, it was "Infantry Peeps."

There were also "Calvary Peeps" - with Peep bunnies riding Peep chicks. Their objective seemed to be the patio.

The Peeps came prepared to take losses, complete with Peep coffins & a chaplain. "Some casualties for you to enjoy." (I suspect the "dead Peeps" are actually some sort of Trojan Horse kind of trick.)

Finally, knowing the futility of attacking something many times their size (even with their imposing numbers & near-indestructibility), the Peeps positioned "Sniper Peeps" throughout the yard - on the fence, in one of the trees, on the boys' basketball goal...

...and the final holdout near the eave of the old garage.

Menacing little bugger, isn't he? (I knocked him down with a stick.)

Of course, that was so the Peep Elimination Squad (my two sons) could harvest the Peep Army for some planned experiments involving Peeps & a microwave. (See Peep Science for more ideas on how to experiment/"torture" Peeps for educational purposes.)

Or perhaps as a tasty snack.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Classic: Maundy Thursday

...also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday and Thursday of Mysteries, is the Christian feast or holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter that commemorates the Maundy and Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles as described in the Canonical gospels. (wikipedia)
The "Maundy", by the way, is from the Latin word Mandatum and refers to Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

So, now that we've got the definitions out of the way... a simple question.


Why do we meet to remember the last meal Jesus had with his closest followers before he was put on trial, tortured & crucified?

I can think of two reasons:
  1. Jesus told us to. "And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” (Luke 22: 19 NASB)
  2. I need the reminder.
Seriously... in the busyness of work & marriage & parenting, it's easy for me to gloss over the incredible sacrifice of Christ. Slowing down to taste the dry unleavened bread and feel the fruit of the vine as it rolls down my throat becomes a very tangible way to get off the proverbial merry-go-round of life & look into Jesus' eyes.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Drive-By Game Reviews: April 2014

Buccaneer Bones (3 plays)This is a very light but quite enjoyable dice game with some decision-making (though not too much). It has gone over very well with the non-gamer part of my family… which I think is really the intended audience. (And I just received the expansion set in the mail, which will let it play with up to 8 players... another plus for family/social gaming.)

DC Deckbuilding Game (25 plays): Yes, I've played this 25 times since December 25th... I'm not saying it's the next Puerto Rico, but I enjoy it a lot, as do many of the folks I game with on a regular basis. It doesn't hurt, of course, that I was a huge DC Comics fan back in my collecting days.

The game system is a deckbuilder in the lineage of Ascension - but simpler and much more accessible to folks who aren't hardcore gamers. 

Lord of the Rings Living Card Game (1 pla with the base set): I have avoided the Living Card Game model like it was covered in bubonic plague germs - I could see visions of me spending my kids' college fund to make sure I had the most recent adventure pack.

But when Son the Younger (Collin) began expressing interest in trading card games, I quickly worked to side-step him into the Lord of the Rings Living Card Game. I had two reasons:
  1. the theme (Lord of the Rings) is much more Mom-acceptable than Magic: The Gathering
  2. the LCG model doesn't feed the whole Poke-crack "buy a pack, open it, sell useless cards to subsidize the next pack" cycle.
So, a few weeks ago Collin received the base set - and it's been a hit with both he and his older brother. He hasn't done much with the deck-building aspect yet, but he's enjoying the structure of the game and has "big plans" for building a Spirit deck.

I've played one game (with Collin giving me advice) of the most basic scenario - and it's a really great solitaire/cooperative system. I don't know that I'll ever get into the deck-building side of the game, but with Collin in place to build me a deck, I'm good to go.

Relic Runners (3 plays, review copy provided): Another beautiful-to-look-at production from the good folks at Days of Wonder... and another family-friendly game that won't cause gamer types to run screaming from the room. I enjoyed it with 2, 3 and 4 players - the puzzle-y aspect is interesting but not overwhelming. Comparisons to Ticket to Ride are unfair, unless you're talking about relative difficulty... the route-planning issues are very different here.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

aka (former) pastor guy

I started writing this blog on April 1st, 2005... and from the beginning the "tagline" at the top of this blog has read:

Everything including the kitchen sink... but with special attention paid to board games, Jesus Christ, my family, being a "professional" (and I use that word loosely) Christian, and the random firing of the 10% of the synapses I'm currently using.
As of January 2013, one element of that changed: I resigned my position as pastor of NewLife Community Church and stopped - at least for the foreseeable future - being a "professional" (and I'm still using that word loosely) Christian.
It's been a tough and not altogether welcome transition. The vast majority of my training, experience & expertise are in teaching, preaching & leading Southern Baptist churches: 13 years as a youth pastor and nearly 15 years as a lead pastor.
Yes, I've worked other jobs (warehouse, fulfillment, call center... and most recently computer tech support & software documentation) - but they've always been "way station" jobs. They've been money for rent & food while we wait for the next church to call me.
This was and is different.
The Question(s)
I know that whenever someone dropped out of ministry (yes, "dropped out" - it sounds like they left college, bought a beat-up VW Van and started driving around the country trying to get in touch with their inner child), I wanted to know the answer to one question: "Why?"
Well, two questions, actually:
  • "Why did you leave your church?"
  • "Why did you leave ministry?"
Sometimes I wanted to know so I could pray for them... but chances are pretty good that I wanted to know so I could either
(a) avoid the trap they'd fallen into, or
(b) pat myself on the back that I hadn't done the same thing.
It's a short (and dangerous) trip from "Man, I bet he's hurting" to "Well, that's what you get when you're not as spiritually/emotionally solid as people like me". Pride is a pandemic & no one is immune.
The Answer(s)
So, as I answer (sort of) those questions, I encourage you to pray not only for me & my family, but for your pastor/ministry staff as well.
Question the First
Why did you leave NewLife?
Honestly, that's really a question better answered one-on-one rather than in the context of a blog post. That doesn't mean it's a bad question - it's just not one I'm going to answer in detail here.
I wrote a post earlier this year about some writing from Jen Hatmaker that encapsulated what I was feeling that may gave you more insight - it's entitled Kenny Rogers, Toffee & a Hatmaker.
What I will say is that I chose to resign without a specific place of ministry to move to, there was no moral issues involved, it was a long & heartbreaking process to reach the decision... and that I miss pastoring NewLife Community Church.
Question the Second
Why did you leave "the ministry"?
The answer to this "why?" is not a simple one. First & foremost, it's the result of a great deal of prayer & wise counsel. Multiple folks from various parts of our lives encouraged both Shari & I to rest and heal.
We had the privilege of attending a Ministering to Ministers Healthy Transitions retreat in July 2013 and once again had our decision to step away affirmed by people who had a great deal of experience with ministers & forced termination. (Forced termination, by the way, can cover everything from being outright fired by a church to simply choosing to resign due to negative pressures & abuse.)
In addition, Shari & I had to choose what was best for the two of us and for our boys. Our first responsibility is to be spiritually & emotionally healthy parents to Braeden & Collin - and, at this point in our lives, that is most likely if we are not subject to the unique pressures & stresses of congregational ministry. 
What's Next?
I don't know.
Well, that's not entirely true. My 2 month temporary employment (my mouthful of a job title was "Legislative Aide to the Windows7 / Office 2010 Upgrade Project") extended out to 8 months... and this last week, I moved from the Legislative to the Executive branch to become the Deputy Executive Director of Assessment Logistics at the TN Department of Education. I'm overwhelmed (but in a good way) by the job... it's a great opportunity and a big challenge, all rolled into one.
We've found a fantastic church - and, in a move that will make our friends from the church @ hickory hollow days laugh, are a part of the set-up/tear-down team. Braeden's in the youth group (yes, I'm officially old) and we've beginning to find a small group fit.
What I don't know is what's next as far as vocational ministry goes. I keep praying... and wondering. And then some more praying. It would be great if you joined me in the whole prayer thing.
So, "aka pastor guy"?
I've struggled a bit with changing the name of this blog - since I'm not actually a "pastor guy" anymore. I've come up with two possible choices:
  • aka (former) pastor guy
  • the artist formerly known as aka pastor guy
But after some extended thought & prayer, I think I'm going to leave it. Whether or not I'm financially compensated for the work of being a pastor, I still have a calling to speak and live the truth of the gospel of grace and the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whether I'm a civil servant working with testing data or a gamer trying to roll all sixes when my forces attack Kamchatka, I'm still Mark Jackson, aka pastor guy.
The ultimate aim of the Christian minister is to produce the love which springs from a pure heart, a good conscience and a genuine faith. (1 Timothy 1:5, Phillips)

Friday, April 04, 2014


This is a jaw-dropping flat-out amazing paint job on a favorite game of mine - Franz Benno DeLonge's Big City. (It was created by Holger E... and you can see the original picture on BGG.)

If you want to read more about Big City, you can check out my Top 100 posting (it was #33) or my Game Central Station post about the game.

Thursday, April 03, 2014


It's been a wild week... and the blog has suffered. So, an explanation, followed by a quick sprint through some topics of interest. 

The Explanation

I have a new job with the Tennesse Department of Education... 

The Gathering 

...which explains why I (sob whimper) won't be at Alan Moon's Gathering of Friends this year. And why I won't get to have the first pick off the Prize Table that I "own" thanks to winning the Can't Stop tournament last year. 

Why, yes, I'm bummed - thanks for asking. 

The Kickstarter

Today is the LAST day to jump on the Baseball Highlights 2045 Kickstarter!

You should support this. So say I all. 

The Movies

Don't Stop Believing - Everyman's Journey is a disjointed but enjoyable documentary about the lead singer they found via YouTube. Arnel Pineda is a great vocalist & seems to be pretty grounded... which makes this more fun to watch than your average "Behind the Music" band bio. 

Frozen has more in common w/a Broadway musical than it does most animated films. That's not a bad thing - our family had a great time watching it. 

Thor: The Dark World had problems - impenetrable plot twists & nonsensical "technology" - but it was still a lot of fun to watch in a pulp-y comix kind of way.