Why I’m Walking Away From The Dream Of Becoming A Traditional Pastor
**When I use the big C in Church, I’m talking about the universal Church, not an individual church congregation.
Also, when I refer to Traditional Pastor, I’m referring to a role where I’m working 40 hours a week (YEAH RIGHT!) as a Pastor with a church building, deacon board, etc. and that is my only full-time job.**
On Friday, March 26, 2021 as I walked down the road on my daily afternoon walk it hit me. I thought to myself, “I can’t give the Church anymore!” It was a hard, painful realization. I had just received another rejection email from a church and I had enough! Maybe 20 minutes later, Lauren went out for her walk and as I met her on the sidewalk I said, “I just can’t do it anymore!” As we hugged on the side of the road, tears started flowing as 5 years of ministry frustration came to a head. We stood there for a while pondering what this really meant for me and for us as a family.
Is It Time To Let It Go?
It’s been 10 years since I entered the “ministry workforce.” And it’s been 5 years since I’ve come home from Israel with eager ambitions to Pastor a congregation and help people grow closer to Jesus in unique and practical ways. For 5 years I’ve tried different avenues of ministry.
In 2016 I tried the Israel Experience 360˚ which provided content that helped bridge the gap of context between the Bible and the physical Holy Land sites. This bore almost no fruit and in 2020 I decided to let it go.
Also in 2016, I began reaching out to churches for speaking opportunities on anything I’d be allowed to speak on. Only a few opportunities have come my way.
In 2017, Lauren and I launched Empowering Hope, which was designed to help partner churches and ministries with missionaries. This saw more fruit than IE360˚ but still not enough fruit to continue pursuing.
Of course, I have been looking for a traditional pastor role almost the entire 5 years since I’ve been home. I was a Discipleship Director for a short time in 2017-2019, however, I never really stopped looking for that leadership role as a Senior/Lead Pastor or even Campus Pastor.
Then in 2020 I began recording Lectio Divinas and officially launched my Justin Boothby, M.Div. page that was designed to be a ministry outlet to help people grow closer to Jesus in unique and practical ways. I produced my first devotional and my first Passover Seder package. Again, very little fruit was produced from all of those.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, because for years people have been saying, “Justin, why don’t you just start your own ministry? God will provide.” But unfortunately, for five years and almost 5 failed ministries, God has not provided through those ministry efforts. And after 9 years of building up student debt and 5 additional years of being unable to make all my payments, I am in an atrocious and nightmarish financial position. Some people have wanted me to start my own church. There is absolutely no doubt I have the calling of Pastor, but it has become clear through closed doors, prayer, lack of provision, and more closed doors that I am not called to the traditional pastor role.
It’s clear that the Church (remember big C here), does not really want what I have to offer. And maybe, the cold, hard truth is that I don’t want what many churches have to offer either. I was not created or designed to function well in a cookie-cutter, everything-is-awesome, three-songs-and-a-sermon, sweep-all-the- bad-stuff-under-the-rug type of church. And unfortunately, that’s where a lot of churches in America are today.
So I should probably state a few things here before I go any further. Yes, I still love and follow Jesus. Yes, I’m still going to continue doing ministry work, though it will be significantly less now that I have a 9-5 corporate job. However, what I’m walking away from is the dream of pursuing the traditional full-time pastor role. This doesn’t mean I can’t still pastor in other ways, but I’m just not looking for the evangelical 40 (really 80)-hour a week role with the title any longer. There have been a lot of questions about what I’m doing now. And even more, “You can’t give up ministry!” comments. So I’m hoping to answer some of those here.
I’ll Be Honest
I’ll be honest, a couple of months ago I was ready to shut down my website, pull the plug entirely on the Seder video I produced, and walk away from the Church completely. I wanted to 100% walk away from ministry entirely! I even had a very bitter “Goodbye” article written up. But after talking with my counselor, we decided it may not be the wisest decision (who knew?!). He did, however, suggest that I find a way to still share my thoughts with you all in a way that’s not bitter but an honest reflection about what it’s been like for me and hopefully give warning and guidance to those who may find themselves in my shoes in the future.
Now, I could easily sit here and blame everyone else for why I’m struggling to get a traditional pastoral position in a church. But there’s plenty of blame that befalls me. And every time I think deeply about why I didn’t get a job, I also think, “But did I really want it?” And most of the time the answer is “Nope!” So here are some reasons that you can use to blame me for not currently holding a Lead/Senior/Campus/(etc.) Pastor title today.
I Don’t Fit
I don’t fit any single tribe. I’m a Kingdom person, which means I care about the Church as a whole, not one single denomination. The closest tribe I have would be the Assemblies of God, but I can’t ethically sign off on all 16 Fundamental Truths since I don’t agree with all of them. I can’t tell you how many people have asked me to just sign anyways so that I can “get in.” But that’s not who I am and that’s not what I believe. So why would you ask me to lie about that? Clearly, having a tribe has really set me back from finding a ministry position I desired.
What do you mean You’re Not Evangelical?
I haven’t considered myself an evangelical for almost 7 years. I think a lot of what evangelicalism stands for is not what Jesus stood for or asked the Church to stand for – or at least the ways in which the Church stands for those things. So once again I don’t fit in.
You’ve Gotta Be A “Yes-Person”
Okay, I’m definitely going to blame someone other than me on this one. When I was a student at Southeastern, I had to do what’s called a practicum. Basically, I was an intern at a church learning to do ministry in a practical setting. Before preaching one night, I asked the pastor a question. This was his response: “You know, when I was Youth Pastor, I knew it was my job to make the Senior Pastor look like a genius. And when I couldn’t do that anymore I knew it was my time to leave.” You may be asking, “What question did you ask that would prompt such a response?” I asked him if it was permissible for me to drink a Red Bull while I preached…
I had a pastor ask me recently (I’m paraphrasing because I don’t remember exactly how he asked it), “Are you going to challenge the status quo or are you willing to go along with the program?” In other words, are you going to be a problem or are you going to be a “Yes-man?” (Elijah would be so proud – 1 Kings 18:16-18!) Fitting into a culture is important, don’t get me wrong. But when you’re asked to compromise who you are to fit the culture, you’re being asked to lie. And the last time I checked, that’s not the best characteristic for pastoral ministry.
If you aren’t a yes-person and you aren’t willing to “just got with it,” then you won’t be a good fit for most ministries today. It’s more important that you’re in line with the church brand and culture than being in line with Jesus. If you want to know the real reason why I can’t fit in with the traditional pastor role, it’s because I don’t like to do things just because we’ve always done them. I once wanted to stop a decades-long tradition of offering attendance awards for Sunday School. You would have thought I literally killed someone. But this attitude goes into everything I do. I’m always going to want to challenge the status quo. For me, I want to know the “why” behind what we’re doing. Once I believe in and am passionate about the why, or can at least understand and appreciate the why, then I’ll be able to “go along with the program.” Sadly, most churches are not very convincing in their “why” and I am not very willing to “just go along with it.”
Stop Thinking Critically!
I was taught and trained at every level of my academic career to be a critical thinker. I think a lot of Church and evangelical theology is wrapped around the idea that if you question something, you’re questioning God, and that’s heresy, and you’re going to hell. I mean, you might think that’s an exaggeration, but that’s pretty much the train of thought among many. Why? Because many Christians aren’t taught to think critically. We’re taught 2+2=Jesus and if you don’t agree then you’re a liberal democrat who supports baby killing and pride parades. The older I get, the more I see that thinking critically has the ability to lead to doubt which leads to less people donating to the church. I’m always going to question why we believe what we believe and that does not make for a good traditional pastor – apparently.
However, thinking critically is important for us as Jesus-followers because there are non-Christians who are thinking critically every day and they always have questions to problems we haven’t even thought of because we’re taught not to question why or what we believe. If we really want to provide the world with solid answers for our beliefs, then we have to be willing to get out of our Christian bubbles and boxes, read and learn from people who have different beliefs than us, and be able to discuss hard issues that pose problems for our faith – and I assure you, there are many! It’s okay and good to have deep conversations in safe spaces where we can really question what we believe. God is not going to be less God because you question Him or aspects of your faith. Just read the Psalms! How many times are the psalmists questioning God and through their questioning they come into a deeper faith. But we as pastors have to be willing to provide those opportunities for people to ask hard questions and dive into those muddy conversations so that we can better understand who God is and how we can better serve and love others the way God has loved us.
Just Come Learn The Real Way Of Ministry
I do my very best to stay humble and to be a lifelong learner. That being said, there was nothing more demeaning than when a pastor who has had no formal ministry or biblical training said, “If you just come and study under me, then you can learn more about how to really do ministry. I’m not offering you a job, just a way to come and learn.” I spent 14 years of my life training to be a Pastor; 9 years in formal education, 7 years of real ministry experience, 2 years living in Jerusalem, and none of that was worth any value to this pastor.
It’s clear that many churches simply don’t want people with education. Maybe I should say, “Too much education.” Education is apparently of the devil and my hundreds of thousands of dollars on learning deeply about God, Jesus, and the Bible aren’t worth anything to them. In fact, it was never explicitly said this way, but I was essentially ghosted out of job (meaning I had a Skype interview where the Pastor walked out and would never respond to any of emails) because I had more education than the Senior Pastor. So I guess you can blame me for getting too much education? *sighs*
Inerrancy, End Times, Oh My!
Many of you already know this, but I don’t believe in the whole “Left Behind”-style of eschatology (study of end times). I also don’t believe in the traditional evangelical view of inerrancy. I’m not going to give you my thesis on these topics here, but suffice it to say that these have easily prohibited me from both being offered a job and applying for a job and accepting a job.
Who Do You Know?
And last but certainly not least, becoming a Pastor today has little to do with your calling, your education, or even your experience. It’s who you know. I’ve been turned down positions before because the board members or pastor decided to go with a family member or someone related to them rather than invest in someone who was passionate about the role. Nepotism is rampant in the Church and since I’m a first-generation pastor, and in spite of all the networking and relationships I’ve built over the years, it doesn’t trump blood. Even in the Kingdom.
Alright, one last one, I promise. Because it needs to be said. Who needs bible training and ministry experience when you can just have good looks, pricy shoes, expensive cars, celebrity BFFs, and a mistress? Just kidding. But seriously. I’m not kidding.
So What’s Next?
So if you’re still reading and care even an iota about what’s next for me, this is where I’m at.
I’m currently working at a major consulting firm and I’m making more than I would in most church settings. This will allow me to pay down my student debt and hopefully, eventually have the ability to plant a unique ministry where I won’t have the detrimental student debt looming over my head and wondering if I can provide for my family.
I’m not giving up on ministry. I’m still going to be seeking speaking engagements, and hopefully once things calm down and I’m not as burned out, I’ll get back to producing content on my website and social media.
I think one of the best things having a secular job is going to do for me is that I will no longer feel like I need the Church to provide for me. The truth is that God is my provider but it’s been hard to break free from the lie that the Church is my provider. Where I felt limited to speak on topics in the past because, “Oh no! Will they hire me if I say X, Y, and Z?” I won’t have to worry about that any longer. I’ll be able to speak more freely and open about certain topics on theology and the church and my only worry will be, “How am I glorifying God in this?”
I’m grieved, friends. I’m hurt. My soul is in anguish. I spent half of my life training to be a Pastor. I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an education that has given me almost 0 return. Now I have a wife AND a son I have to provide for and I just couldn’t wait any longer for a ministry job to turn up. I couldn’t handle one more rejection. I’m honestly surprised I didn’t completely walk away from ministry altogether because that’s how hurt I was and am.
But I can’t run from my calling and I can’t run from the Holy Spirit.
If you’re still reading, I really, really appreciate you! Please be in prayer for Lauren and I (and Noah) as we navigate how we will be doing ministry in the future and discern how the Holy Spirit wants to use us. We’re not quite sure what this next season of life looks like, so we could use all the prayers we can get!
Maranatha // מרנאתא
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About The Author
Justin Boothby is a lifelong student who loves to travel, film, write, design websites, and life coach. Most importantly he loves to Pastor in all different kinds of ministry settings. He’s also an avid pizza lover, metalcore listener, and shot glass collector.
Join me in my latest Lectio Divina session.
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About The Author
Justin is a lifelong student who loves to speak, travel, film, write, and coach. He has a goal of empowering others to grow closer to Jesus in practical and unique ways. After acquiring two degrees in Practical Theology and then studying in Israel for two years, Justin has a passion to help people read the Bible with a deeper appreciation in its original, ancient context.
M.A. Hebrew University of Jerusalem
M.Div. Regent University
B.S. Southeastern University