Is Demitting the Ministry a Valid Choice?

Discussion in 'Church Office' started by py3ak, Oct 7, 2019.

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  1. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    I am not asking this in reference to myself, but the topic came up recently.

    May an ordained minister, without sin, resign from pastoral ministry altogether in order to pursue a different calling (lumberjack, gentleman farmer, banker, etc.)?

    This is assuming the decision is not a result of providential circumstances such as illness, financial crisis, or inability to find a call. It also assumes that no disqualifying moral failure has taken place. So may someone who is qualified and who has been set apart for the Gospel ministry, then decide to pursue a secular career?
  2. fredtgreco

    fredtgreco Vanilla Westminsterian Staff Member

    Yes. The PCA BCO describes it thus:

    38-2. A minister of the Gospel against whom there are no charges, if fully
    satisfied in his own conscience that God has not called him to the ministry, or
    if he has satisfactory evidence of his inability to serve the Church with
    acceptance, may report these facts at a stated meeting of Presbytery. At the
    next stated meeting, if after full deliberation the Presbytery shall concur with
    him in judgment, it may divest him of his office without censure. This
    provision shall in like manner apply with any necessary changes to the case of
    ruling elders and deacons; but in all such cases the Session of the church to
    which the ruling elder or the deacon who seeks demission belongs shall act as
    the Presbytery acts in similar cases where a minister is concerned.
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  3. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Graduate

    Part of the qualifications for being a pastor is a desire to be such (1 Tim. 3:1). It seems to me that if the desire is no longer there, one has disqualified themselves. As to the cause of this, it could be a sinful desire to free oneself from the unpleasantries of ministry, but regardless, it seems altogether better to resign under such circumstances than to continue on uninspired.
  4. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    I think the answer would depend upon the situation. If the minister had some sort of internal and external confirmation that he probably wasn't an effective minister then it might be prudential to demit. Perhaps his preaching is sub-par. Such things ought to have been learned during the ordination process but I could see places where providence might reveal that the Church ought not to have laid hands and the minister decides to demit.

    If, however, the minister is demitting because he's shrinking back and wants a "better life" then he could be sinning. I recently learned of a young minister who decided that God was calling him to quit a certain work because "they had done all the right things" but the Church wasn't growing. I think there is a growing crop of ministers who imagine that when things get really hard then it's time to call it quits.
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  5. PaulCLawton

    PaulCLawton Puritan Board Freshman

    Based on the information given I would tend to say "no", URCNA CO art. 8:

    "A minister of the Word is bound to the service of the churches for life and may change the nature of his labor only for weighty reasons, upon approval by his supervising council with the concurring advice of classis."
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  6. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    In this case, it was described to me as a "mid-life crisis" mixed with some anxiety about children and the future, restlessness and curiosity about the very active economy all around, and a sense that he's never tried anything else. Further pressing brought out that a recent project, only tangentially ministerial, helped him to feel useful.

    From a standpoint of the church's judgment, I would say there's no doubt as to his gifting or the acceptability of his ministry.
  7. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Everyone has had something good to say. It may be a sin, and at the same time the man lose his inward sense of the call. So, should that loss be the deal seal? Now he should go off? That does reflect our emotional culture. I would think him wise to take some time, look for encouragement, put his hand to the plow and drive on; and trust that his inward drive would eventually return with vigor.

    If not, sometimes we must just listen to others, and look and look and look away from ourselves. Is God at work in his church, by my service, even if I have lost the "feeling" of it, and may not recover it (or to the degree I once felt it)? Think about the marriages that have been broken from a dependency on the "feelings" from the first expected to be there the same after 20yrs. That's improbable. We should mature in the ministry as in marriage, and study the habits of the office.

    There still could be a listlessness and emptying of zeal in the ministry of a man who has lost his fire. The congregation may not fail, but could it do better if it had the opportunity to bring in someone who had a truer sense of call? Perhaps there's one perspective on a man who should persevere in his calling, not sinfully demit; but another that sees by his going out though sinful, room is given the man to whom Christ would entrust that congregation.
  8. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    I once raised this question with respect to Abraham Kuyper leaving the ministry and going into politics. I wondered how it could possibly be biblical for a minister to resign from gospel ministry in order to pursue another career. After all, was he not called to be a preacher of the word? I think it was @Pilgrim who pointed out to me that there is such a thing as a temporary calling.
  9. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

    Sounds like there is an element of burn-out, which while not surprising, would reflect on others more than it would on the pastor.
  10. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    This past year I have been very sick and burned out. Severe pain all the time and resulting depression. I have thought about whether I should continue or not. But...hopelessness and disillusion also have elements of sin, and so I don't think a man who is called into the ministry can give it up. The role may change, but I believe ministers are called for life. If we give it up due to burn-out, I believe this, too, is a man on the field of battle who decides to flee or take a position in the rear when he has been assigned to the frontlines.
  11. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    It sounds like there is generally an off-ramp if the conclusion is that the original call/ordination was a mistake, but not so much for simple curiosity or lack of interest.
  12. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Senior

    Some in my church have avowed such a notion. I'm not entirely sure of its equity, but am interested in understanding it. This is the position of the Church Order of Dort (Article 12). That, in itself is enough to make me think twice about what arguments there may be for such a view.

    One gentleman in my congregation has cited Romans 11:29, "For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance." And while the context is not about a calling to the ministry, it must be acknowledged that pastors are "gifts" (Eph. 4:11) and their work is a "calling." Does Christ give pastors to his church only to then go take them back?

    I do not think this is an easy question. I would not quarrel with those who disagree. But these are some of the things that come to mind in regards to this question.
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2019
  13. PaulCLawton

    PaulCLawton Puritan Board Freshman

    This may be simplistic, but I think Hebrews 5:4 comes to bear here, "And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.". If a man does not take up the honour himself, it follows that neither can he lay it down himself.

    A lengthy quote from Van Dellen and Monsma on the CO article follows:

    The Roman Church teaches that the nature of the ecclesiastical office is such that he who once receives the office can never lose it. The office and the office-bearer are inseparably united for life. Consequently, when an office-holder in the Roman Church makes himself unworthy of his office, that office is not taken from him, but he is merely prohibited from exercising it. This is not our position. Yet we hold that a Minister “is bound to the service of the Church for life.” Why? In the first place because this is Biblical. Even in Old Testament days Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and other Prophets were called to the Ministry for life. The disciples also and the apostles and evangelists were “separated” unto their ministry, not temporarily, but permanently, for life. Scripture also indicates that the service of the Word demands our undivided love, (John 21:15-17; II Cor. 5:14) our full time, (John 9:4) our readiness of will, (I Cor. 9:16,17) our unfailing perseverance (II Tim. 4:1-6) and our complete separation unto the work (Rom. 1:1). In full harmony with this principle of life-long service it may be noted that the internal call to the ministry in the heart of the future Ministers, is always interpreted to be a call for life. Let it also be remembered that the dignity of the office of the ministry of the Word is advanced by appointment for life. And it is also true that young men can hardly be expected to go through a course of training extended over many years unless they can look forward to the ministry as a life-long work.
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  14. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Senior

    I am reminded of when Peter said, "I go a fishing" (John 21:3). It was then our Lord came to him on the lake and asked, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? ...Feed my lambs" (John 21:15).
  15. ZackF

    ZackF Puritan Board Graduate

    I don't think I have a direct answer but it may be helpful to come from another direction where there is more certainty.

    Is there anyone here that would necessarily categorize a 'non-sin' prompted step down by a ruling elder as necessarily sinful? We know life circumstances like widower-hood, health, spousal health, aging parents, and so on may prompt such a decision. This would be the same case with deacons would it not?

    Clearly the stakes are higher with a teaching elder, a pastor, who's consumed thousands of dollars and hours of his and others time in education and preparation for the ministry. As indicated by another above, having him as a pastor is not without opportunity cost. Why him instead of another man who wants the job? There seems to be a glut of seminary graduates competing for few callings, let alone callings that support a growing family. How many ministers are out there that even after years of laboring find themselves without a calling and limping along on bi-vocational life support? Despite the high calling of the pastorate as it is described in Scripture, I don't see where it necessarily binds men like the Catholic priest's "indelible mark on the soul."

    In many churches and denominations ruling elders and deacons are required to step-down periodically, if even for a term, why can't teaching elders do likewise without disgrace? I'm not saying such would be normative or common but it at least shouldn't be off the table. With the changes in society we're going to see financial pressures mount on churches and pastors. Many pastors, if even only in the short term, will be forced into tent making or in contemporary parlance 'learning to code.'
  16. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    A minister Knows what it is himself and if he is neglecting his call or if he isn't. A minister can bring more shame upon Christ when he doesn't want to serve him in the capacity he thought he was called upon and forced by in by men to fulfill it. Why doesn't our testimony tell about those guys who did good for eternity and needed to step aside. Seen it happen many times these last 38 years. Seen men who want to stay in positions they shouldn't be in. It is terrible.
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2019
  17. Mark Hettler

    Mark Hettler Puritan Board Freshman

    This topic is very personal for me as a former pastor who left the pastoral ministry for a different career 35 years ago. While I realize that the answer must be based on scriptural principles rather than one's experience, I have never doubted that I made the right decision. I was not in a Reformed denomination at the time, and if I had been, I probably would not have ended up in ministry in the first place. I decided early in life that I wanted to devote my life to serving God, and in my lack of understanding, I believed that that meant some form of ordained ministry. No one ever questioned my calling, and I found myself the pastor of a small charismatic church. After 5 years, it was painfully obvious that, while my zeal hadn't wavered, I lacked the skill set, gifting, whatever you want to call it. I went into software development where I have had a long and successful career which I believe to be the blessing of God. I have never regretted the decision and never had any pangs of conscience or conviction of sin in that area.
  18. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Good quote. I think the same issue applies to Elders which is why I am against the idea of "terms" for ruling elders. I think the calling for Church Office is lifelong.
  19. PaulCLawton

    PaulCLawton Puritan Board Freshman

    Agreed, it would seem that in the case of elders and of ministers it is possible to hold to the principle of lifelong office while allowing for sabbaticals when necessary.
  20. SolaScriptura

    SolaScriptura Puritan Board Doctor

    And I'm one who understands that calling is often revealed in terms of seasons or chapters. I refuse to cast scorn upon a man who for the good of his church, or for the good of his own soul or for the good of his family or for the good of the reputation of Jesus, steps down and pursues a different call (perhaps an entirely different vocation). Should he have stayed, should he have gone... I will let God decide.
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2019
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  21. RJ Spencer

    RJ Spencer Puritan Board Freshman

    My question has always been on the other end. Should I get into ministry to begin with? I'd say that it's better to be certain about one's calling before getting involved in ministry than to get in a ministry position only to find that God never called you to it to begin with. I've been involved with various ministries for 13 years, but never to the pastorate. I need to be certain before taking such a step.
  22. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

    That reminds me of a pastor I know. He burned out at a Baptist church, spent most of his career doing something totally unrelated to ministry, and is now in a Presbyterian pulpit. He's a solid preacher, a great pastor, and has only limited administrative duties. Meanwhile, his old Baptist church has grown into a megachurch since he left.
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