Barely three weeks ago I was writing a letter to my parents about departures. I find myself now in the same position – except this time I am the subject matter. The past Sunday was a difficult one for me as I had the emotional task of announcing to our church community a rather significant decision I have taken. In September I will be reaching my 5 year mark at Christ Church, and 15 years in pastoral ministry.
Through a rather thorough and tough process, I have decided to end my season of ministry at Christ Church, and broader, to take a break from full-time vocational ministry. I specifically use that phrase, as I believe that everyone who follows Jesus has signed up for full-time ministry (ministry meaning serving and loving Him and others – whatever we find ourselves doing). I’ve written this blog to help distill some of my thoughts, and also to help provide something of a context for others. Whether I like it or not, pastoral ministry and leadership does carry something of a upfront role, and in exercising this I have tried my best to open my life to others, practicing honesty and vulnerability where possible. Continuing in that vein, I offer this which I hope will be helpful. Of course my desire is that I would have been able to share this personally with everyone in my Christ Church community – and other friends and family outside it – in person, but I’m unable to, and so write this instead. I do so to honour the wondrous community that I’ve been blessed to serve at Christ Church, and the previous two parishes I’ve served in.
The dark cloud
Around a year ago, I began to experience this this niggling feeling – an unsettledness that whispered internally that ‘not everything was OK’. Somehow, it crept inside uninvited and unannounced, and slowly began to make itself known. The whisper getting louder and louder, until it was so distracting I was unable to cope with life as I knew it. With the help of a doctor I was able to be introduced to this intruder, and discover it’s name – depression. I’ve written elsewhere about this journey and what it meant for me.
With the help of a great counselor, after several months I was able to identify something of the roots of this depressive episode. Rightfully so, the responsibility held by those in pastoral leadership is huge. This responsibility and pressure has been true for many aspects of my life: emotional, intellectual, moral, spiritual, psychological and relational. Perhaps one of the only areas in which not much has been expected of me is the physical. However I believe the consistent responsibility and pressure in each of the aforementioned areas for 15 years was so great, that there was a manifestation of them physically. In other words, my body was saying to me: ‘this is too much for you, I’m showing you that it’s not sustainable. You are burnt out.’ The temptation here could easily be to play the blame game; pointing at the church for its expectations, Jared for not pacing myself, etc. I will have none of that! The situation is what it is, and it is no ones fault, the situation is much more complex than that.
Whilst I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as a pastor and wholeheartedly thrown everything of myself into the three churches I’ve served at, I am needing a break. Some Jared time, where I don’t have to carry the full responsibility of leadership (of the pastoral nature) for a while. I can then use the opportunity to reassess in a less pressurized environment about if and how to re-enter the space of full time vocational ministry. Sometimes we need to step outside something in order to have a fuller understanding of how it looks and feels. I have journeyed with Rob (my boss) and various others around this over the past weeks, and feel encouraged having their blessing to make this change.
Doing and being
For the past 15 years my identity and calling have been wrapped up in ‘Jared the pastor’ and so – if only for Jared’s sake – I need to know Jared as Jared (if that makes any sense). I remember vividly a midnight conversation with a friend a few months ago, who was asking me about some of my actions, and whether they were because of who Jared was, or as a result of ‘my role’. Truth be told, I firmly believe that I haven’t had to struggle with putting on or wearing the role of being a pastor – rather it has felt like I’ve worn it like a glove. I say this with joy, sincerity and humility.
My personality, heart, passion, giftings and various other components have come together, and more importantly come alive as a pastor. I have loved having the privilege of loving and serving people. It’s often said that they things we lie awake thinking about are those that we care the most about. Hardly a night has gone by when I haven’t laid working through a list a people in the community I was caring for. I’ve had to make sure that this tiredness and need for a break do not in any way negate this truth – that I’ve loved being a pastor, and do not suggest that it has been a wrong choice, or forced me to be someone that I am not. I just need a break – an extended time of not having to hold such responsibility, and even if just for myself – to not be defined by my doing.
Perhaps there is some truth in Nietzsch’s words when he says: “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” Perhaps this is a time to own and care for myself.
If I’m honest, I’ve also had to struggle with a voice telling me that I’m ‘giving up’ or ‘don’t have what it takes to last it out like many of the pastors I know who have served for decades’. I’ve heard these voices, wrestled with them, cried with them (as I have whilst writing much of this post), but also been able to put them in their rightful place. Thankfully I’ve had good people around me who’ve been able to quell and quash them, and speaking truth where it has been needed.
I have the immense privilege of receiving a sabbatical this year – three month’s paid leave that is accrued after 5 years of pastoral ministry. This runs from October to December. My last day ‘in the office’ will be the 28th September, and my contract with Christ Church ends at the end of the year. I can’t express the gratitude I have for this period – a time where I can rest from caring for others and recoup, and not have to worry about anything else. It’s a gift that Christ Church are still willing to offer this to me, despite that I’ll be leaving at the end of the year – truly a gift of grace.
For my first month I’ll be travelling in Italy, inspired recently by reading Ian Morgan Cron’s Chasing Francis. The novel tells the story of a pastor who experiences something of a crisis and leaves the megachurch he is leading, and follows some of the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi in Italy. I shall do this, and then also spend some time hiking in the Dolomites, visiting friends in Germany, and resting on the Amalfi Coast. For the second month, I’ll be based in the Western Cape, but staying out of town and possibly doing some writing.
Lastly, in December I’ll be visiting my family in New Zealand. Many will know of my family’s recent decision to emigrate to this distant land. Precipitated by repeatedly being the victims of crime, a growing disappointment with inequality and waning hope for the journey ahead, led them to make the decision to leave. I look forward to my first visit to them, and am thankful that I’m afforded the opportunity to spend a full month with them.
What lies ahead
Lastly – and hopefully concisely as I already feel like I have written too much – what of the journey ahead after my sabbatical? For over a decade and a half I’ve never struggled with knowing what lay ahead vocationally – it was always to be a pastor! It’s therefore been rather difficult to know where to head to. I’ve done much reflection, and careful consideration, and been able to jot down a couple words and phrases which I feel mostly closely sum up the things that are closest to my heart, and that I believe I’ve been called to or gifted with:
- innovation and creativity,
- people and community building,
- hospitality and event coordination,
- networking and connecting,
- and lastly, urban social architecture (roughly, the creating of spaces for people to connect in an urban setting)
I’ve explored some of the intersections of these, and one opportunity has stuck out higher than the rest. Alongside two others, I’m exploring the idea of starting a co-working space in the city bowl. Several of these shared wok-spaces already exist, helping out emerging entrepreneurs who need both a social and physical infrastructure. The slight difference is that we have a particular desire to place emphasis in three areas: conscience (connecting people who are socially minded and desire to make a difference in the country through their work), community (acknowledging that these people want to work in community, and would benefit from a shared space) and lastly care (providing various forms of assistance such as HR, personal coaching, business strategy, spiritual direction, or simply someone acknowledging them and their work). We will explore something of the model of Impact Hubs (see here for more info on the concept). We are exploring the possibility of launching this in February next year, and sense this is a much needed space and place. In Anglican terms, this may take on the form of a Fresh Expression.
I will simultaneously explore other options, hopefully finding other spaces of intersection among the areas listed above.
Lastly I want to be clear to point out that I’m not in any way stepping away from the church. I remain as in love with the church as I’ve ever been. I remain convinced that the church is a powerful force, both birthed and authored by God. I am however stepping away from ‘standing in the front’.
These past months have been among my hardest, and making this decision has taken more courage than I thought I had. I’m thankful for those who have helped journey with me, and look forward to further conversations. If I’m honest I don’t fully know how to make this transition. The amount of tears and grief already experienced have shown it will be challenging, but not impossible.
Blessings and love,