This picture of Alexander Lang (I assume) has been all over my Facebook. Scores of people have responded to his article about quitting church. I have a few thoughts of my own.
Quitting church has been the dominant news story in the world of religion for months now. The pews are empty and so are the pulpits. For lots of reasons, some personal, some cultural. In some ways, this is just one more testimony of a disheartened, disappointed person giving up, finally, on something that once was so important. There are many of these on TikTok.
A good part of me has a great deal of sympathy for pastor Lang. All of us who take up gospel work have the complaints he itemizes. Too many bosses and too many people with problems, real problems. Too many required skills: public speaking, for sure, but also vision casting, counseling, community organizing, supervising and mentoring, and of course, role modeling. It is too much for one person, for most ministers.
I stuck it out for 20 years, twice as long as Lang: first, in a rural Indiana church, then in a suburban Pennsylvania church, finally in a downtown Kentucky church. It was not easy for me, for my wife, for my kids. It took a toll.
Georgetown College came calling, and for the next decade I taught religion and preached in chapel. The congregation mostly changed every two to three years. That helps, plus having only one boss–the college president. Then I spent another decade with the Academy of Preachers where I was my own boss, mainly.
But now, I am back at it, preaching every Sunday for a micro-church in North Carolina. It helps that I live in another state, even if it is only 30 miles away. I am able to say to some who call, “I’d like to help but I am out of state.” If I get too many of those calls or my people get too demanding I am free to say, “I quit” and move back to Georgia. Which I might do any way.
That is the advantage of being old, living on retirement, and not needing any more ministerial success to satisfy my ambition. And being old equips me in another way: after fifty plus years of working with people, I have developed my own pastoral philosophy, summed up in the pointed question, “What the hell is wrong with you, anyway?”
They, of course, ask that question about me, and I am quick to answer: “Way too much for one conversation” which satisfies some of the people some of the time but none of the people all of the time.
But through it all I have found enough joy to balance out the sorrow, enough friends to make up for the enemies. I have found reading and preaching, speaking and listening, learning and loving, all in the name of Jesus, to provide enough wind in my sails to keep me going. I stuck with it, mostly, through success and failure, high times and low times, and I admire others who do the same, even if I empathize with those who don’t.
God bless us all, as we muddle through life, one sermon at a time, all in the name of Jesus.
Dwight A. Moody