So Long

I have spent the better part of a decade chasing my call to ministry. First with the Presbyterian Church (USA) where I was “under care” for three years. I wrestled to articulate my call within the particular understanding of what it means to be a minister. I did not fair well and could not clothe myself with the offered roles of Minister of Word and Sacrament. I departed to pursue social work.

When the social work did not pan out I found myself in minister as a part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I discovered a loose collective of rebel rousing yahoos. They liked me and offered me a place at the table. I jumped through hoops, forged new ministries, and fought to offer another way to be “minister” to the world.

These efforts got me ordained after two years of service to a Disciples congregation and service to the church catholic. I had arrived; Jan 23, 2011 I got my stole. It was an amazing time. It marked a long journey for me. It was beautiful to have family, friends (old and new), mentors, admirers, and my partner there to witness the public proclamation of my call to serve the church as a Minister of Christian Witness.

I was very hopeful and encouraged by this event and by the world of possibilities that seemed to beacon me to dare to dream. The church was ready to embrace me and my crazy vision of what church is. The crazy vision of what church could be.

Then some stuff happened. I needed to find another church to serve. I put my profile “out there” to see if anyone would bite. I have been in the Call & Search process for over a year. I have not received any viable offers to use my gifts to serve the church. Having searched high and low my wife and I made a decision we moved. She received a call to serve a church in OKC.

I am an unemployed, rebel rousing, pastor of disaster, social justice warrior, advocate for equality, and lover of most. I have reframed and redefined my call to serve the church. I am certain that I am not done being the heart and hands of God. God has something in store for me.

I am certain that I am done with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I have pondered the dissolution of my relationship with the denomination that ordained me. I have called upon the counsel of the amazing colleagues I have gained from this denomination. I have prayed over it and discerned the voice of God. I think the silence of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) speaks the greatest volume in my choice.

Is there geography for me to serve in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)? It does not look that way. The last time I checked there is not one position listed on the national Search & Call system. We are fighting to be eligible to be listed in an ineffective system. A system that is at best a dog and pony show.

This past summer I was part of the “Missional” Learning Track at General Assembly in Nashville. We had a great time and had some wonderful conversations. I had some great connections made. I had a couple of interviews. I heard, “I love your ideas but I have no money.”  When will you get it?

Unless you let go of leadership and equip and bless the ministries of younger leaders you will have no legacy to protect. Our fear and obsession with maintaining the traditions and ideas of yesterday have sanitized the gospel we wield and act as a disinfectant to any creativity that might engage new light.

The bottom line is we are not dying, we are dead. There are exceptions to this in a few areas. Those exceptions either have a wealth of financial resources or a wealth of engaging leadership that equips and invests in developing new leaders.

I can no longer hope that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will get their act together. I am done investing in dead systems. I am captured by Luke 9:60, “Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” There are countless ministers that are willing and hoping to bury the dead and dying. It is not my call. I am called to proclaim the Kingdom of God.

I bid the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) farewell. I do not leave with anger. I depart with sorrow and longing in my heart. Thank you for the affirmation and the introduction to many wonderful people. I had hoped it would have turned out differently. I pray that God bless you and keep you and that the Holy Spirit inspire you to not fear death but get excited about the resurrection waiting for you.


11 thoughts on “So Long

  1. I’m sorry you feel this way. I’m sorry an institution failed you, and do wish you blessings on your future. I, however, am not serving dead churches.
    I am leaving a position at one church in Kansas that has lost funding for an associate. They refused to change some things, and have started to see the exodus of excited people. Now that those people have seen the results, they are trying to change that around. I am moving to another church that has been growing and needs myself and my fiancé to continue the growth. Both of these churches are in small Kansas towns, towns that are themselves not what they once were. These churches are not reflective of institutions, but of congregations. One messed up, another is looking to grow.
    I am a committed minister in the Christian Church (DOC). I have a call to serve and do so with other ministers. I see many people trying to live out the way it used to be, but I am also in an extremely healthy region. One that is constantly challenging our congregations and offering refreshed approaches. I have been trained by many ministers that I have worked with through the summer camping program. There, I see the benefit of denomination, doing larger things that one church cannot do. There I watch, and help facilitate, youth (aka the current generation of church leadership) take a campground in Augusta, KS and turn it into a community. They take this community with them and are support everyday they are apart. I see a group of kids excited and ready to jump into leadership. My goal is to help train them so they do not let this community they built die.
    I think all churches are going through turmoil. I think there is a national crisis in church and identity with in it. I do not think that the DOC is any worse or better off than the others. Our strength is that we are a denomination that brings ministries together to do larger things. Missions. Admin. InterChurch community. But at the core, we are congregations. We are only as good as the congregations we serve in. If one congregation messes up, hopefully they’ll see it and try to fix it. But just because individual congregations fail does not mean that the donomination fails. There is hope, and I know I do not serve dead churches.

    • I am have written a response to you about three or four times and have deleted them. I wrote one and let it sit for a few hours. I deleted it. I can make no comment to you that will not come off as defensive or mean.
      I do not want to be mean to you or anyone. I’ll just say, I am glad you do not serve dead churches.

    • Thanks, Randy. God is not done with this bag of bones. I will do all things with vigor and grace. God be with me as a janitor as much as God be with me as a minister.

  2. I am grieved by this post… grieved for the sense of pain at gifts not received that Ryan seems to carry and grieved for our particular “flavor” of faith that we will not benefit from those gifts or from the passion that he offers. I am most grieved, though, by the ripples of underlying assumptions that I fear may shape such an attitude about the nature of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

    The faith community in which I serve is not dying. Instead, it has made a conscious decision to pursue mission, ministry and vitality. While I have seen and served within a few congregations which seem determined to seek institutional suicide, I see scores more which seek a leader of passion and gentle determination to encourage and even tease them into the future rather than just writing them off in the triage process. I, too, have been viewed as a rabble rouser or unwelcome influence. In fairness, my impatience likely contributed as much to that assessment as the underlying external conditions and attitudes. One of the greatest skills required of a transformational leader is the patience to lead change that offers life rather than exhaustion.

    I also worry within our own community of clergy about the sense in which we equate our ordinations with some notion of guaranteed employment. For better or for worse, we do not receive that guarantee. While our calling is a gift from God, the temporal authority which we use in leadership comes as a gift from those we seek to lead. When that gift is exhausted, our ability to lead and our “term of contract” expires. A second vital ability for a transformational leader is the ability to “cast a compelling vision” which invites others to share the journey. While the “search and call” system can place our printed words into circulation, it is incumbent upon us to craft the vision revealed in those words (and in subsequent conversations by phone and in person) clearly enough to capture the spirits and imaginations of congregational leaders. Surely there are congregations that crave life-giving leadership. If we fail to achieve a call to such service, we must own that failure rather than simply blaming our disappointment on the notion of a broken system. The lack of health in our congregations and among our clergy has created a tough employment climate, but patience, persistence, passion, creativity and a bit of grace can still reveal opportunities.

    I agree that there is much within our ecclesiology that is hopelessly out of date, inefficient and ineffective. I agree that much transformation is required for the new vitality that so many of us see emerging in a multitude of places to truly take root across whole of the Disciples’ community. Still, I’m not ready to give up yet. This is the movement of faith that nurtured me, that witnessed my call to ministry and that has more often than not (even though the “nots” have been painful) received with joy the gifts God has allowed me to share.

    I think I’ll stay here, planting and pruning…, weeding and watering, continuing to tend the new growth I see in the garden which has been entrusted to my care. MDK

  3. Five years in the DOC. Ordained just over a year ago. I’m guessing you aren’t all that young — but lots of people job hop when they’re just starting out. It will be ok. Love you, but as a Disciples clergy, even considering the damning evidence (sic) presented here, I’m not feeling hopeless or indicted. It’s a sentiment best shared in private, unless the resignation isnailed to the back door.

  4. Ryan

    First, thank you for your contributions. They have not been ignored or missed, but our denomination will be lesser for your leaving.

    Next, a word to those who see things differently.

    Well, yeah … we all have our personal realities, which are shaped by our experiences, our backgrounds, and our psychological and emotional make-ups. Where some see death, others see growth. It’s not about deciding which is right, it’s about deciding which is your vision and acting on that.

    I feel regret because I’m afraid you are just one of many, ordained and lay, who see their future serving God in other ways than through the Disciples. I have served in lay leadership positions with several congregations, worked for a national ministry for 10 years, and have a deep affection for the Disciples. I also see what I identify as “warts” in our denomination.

    Bottom line: we each have to do what we see as the best earthly manifestation of God’s will for us and trust that we are doing and being close to what he wants and asks of us.

    Godspeed, friend, and you aren’t really moving that far. God appears to be pretty popular in OKC and unlike us humans, he does not have a denominational preference:)


  5. Pingback: Should I Stay or Should I Go? | THE STRATEGIC LEARNER

  6. David Nickell, Oklahoma City, Disciple by heritage, member of Unity Spiritual Life Center on said:

    Thank you for sharing your journey and your feelings. I just want to say how much I identify with your “sorrow and longing”. As a fifth generation Disciple with friends that I love and respect involved in the denomination, one of the hardest things I have done is say goodbye. It became necessary for me, however, when I came to the conclusion that my local congregation (and in many ways the other manifestations in which I was involved) was the most dysfunctional organization in my life. I now consider myself a Disciple by heritage and history and find spiritual nurture elsewhere…but the sorrow and longing is still there.

  7. Ryan, I hear the sadness and frustration in your words, and for that, I am deeply sorry as well. I don’t think you are alone in this, as many ministers in many denominations could have said those words at one time or another. Yet I simply don’t agree. I have met pastors who find their ministry vision so compelling that they are willing to work several jobs just to support the ministry that they feel called to lead. I have met pastors who believe in the vision they have been given so much so that they raise the funds in other ways to begin doing the ministry they are called to do. Quite frankly, if we are called to do a work, we need to do whatever it takes to get it done. This is not a reality that I write about and know nothing about. Our family has been and will continue to do whatever it takes for a new DOC community of faith to continue to be present in Minnesota, including possibly taking on extra jobs in the next year. The awesome part about being a part of the Disciples is that while there is not always funding for each person’s dream to get accomplished, there is a welcoming attitude towards the entrepreneurial spirit of those who insist they will get it done anyway.

    I don’t agree that we are dying. I believe that demographics and the changes in population shifts are causing some churches to close, while others are undergoing transformation and flourishing in amazing ways. Yes, some cling to what they know and resist change, but that happens everywhere. Nevertheless, this does not negate all of the life that we see in the new congregations being formed, the congregations making life giving decisions that welcome new people into the life of the community, congregations in transformation, and more.

    Our General Minister and President declared at General Assembly that we are in the process of finding our way to the place where we need to be as a movement right now, but even during that time we go with the life giving presence of God, much like Abraham who went to an unknown place, and the Israelites on the way to the promised land. In this, there is hope. There is joy. And there is room at the table for everyone. I do agree that it isn’t always comfortable, but it is life giving.

    Finally, while I do not agree with much of your words, that is okay. After all, the Disciples agree to disagree incredibly well. I think no less of you for taking a different path, and I pray that your journey will be filled with peace, joy, and the knowledge that you are where you need to be.

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