On the Other Side of the Pulpit

Posted: August 25, 2013 in Church, Pastoral Ministry
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Up until recently, I had served as a pastor in local church settings for the past seven years.  However, due to finances in the church I was recently serving, I found myself on the other side of the pulpit – no longer serving as a pastor in the “traditional” sense.  This new situation has presented a number of conundrums (say that five times fast).

Over night, my place changed from “insider” to outsider looking in.  It begs the question: “Without a place, what is my contribution?”  The things I feel called to do don’t seem to be much of an option at this point in time.  Preaching, pastoral prayers, and leading the liturgy are no longer in my realm of responsibilities.  It gives a new meaning to “desert wanderings.”  Foreigners in a foreign place.  

I sat this morning in worship as a parishioner.  It’s been about a month since losing my position as an associate pastor.  I had imagined with time it would be less painful.  To my surprise, I feel more unsettled and hungry to be back in the kind of ministry to which God has called me.  But, for the time being, it is important that I wrestle with the pastoral call in a context where those duties are not charged to me.  How do I preach when I have no pulpit in the formal sense?  How do I provide pastoral prayer when I am not leading anybody but following instead?  And, what does this season in my life represent?  Chastisement?  Testing?  Preparation?  Rest?  All of the  above?

The other side of the pulpit has taught me one thing.  It is difficult to enter into a new community… even a community of believers.  It is hard knowing how to be involved, how our gifts might be utilized for the community.  It is discouraging explaining to others that I’m a pastor… and, no, I didn’t lose my job because I did something wrong or have lost faith.  And, it is saddening to know that other pastors are aware of what has happened but have offered little or no encouragement or comfort.  Going from a full-fledged member of the assembly to something secondary (at least that’s the feeling), makes the transition all that more difficult.  It’s like a no-man’s-land area – something between clergy and laity.  Not quite one or the other.  Where do I fit?  Again, what is a pastor on the other side of the pulpit to do? 

For various reasons, David comes to mind.  King Saul rules Israel.  Interestingly enough, Saul never does have a throne (kisse).  This seat is only mentioned when Eli falls over backwards and breaks his neck and when David is enthroned as king.  But, between those two moments, all David has to go on is his call from God to be king.  He is a king without a throne, often wandering in the desert places avoiding Saul.  But, it is in those wanderings where David is equipped to be a great leader.  It is unlikely.  It is largely unavoidable.  There would have been quicker ways to power and to the throne, but David waited patiently for the Lord to open up the right moment.  But, it was a long time in the waiting.

Now, I don’t imagine myself to be a “man after God’s own heart” in the way David was.  Nor do I imagine a pastor to be a king of a congregation (although some have thought this way).  But, great admiration for the way that David prayerfully relied on God until it was time for him to take his place as the anointed leader of Israel.  Secondly, along the way, David learned faithfulness in following God even when others tempted him to take shortcuts.  Serving in Saul’s house and surviving in the wilderness were times of testing and preparation for David’s call.  I pray that my time on the other side of the pulpit serves the same function.  It is best to remember that when in God’s hands no time is wasted time.  Instead, we can look forward to a future God is preparing us to live into.


  1. I, too, have known these kinds of “wilderness moments” in vocational ministry. When taking some time out of missionary service for family reasons, for 1 1/2 years, I worked in a bank, brushing off and old skill from Seminary days. Though I am grateful to God for having used that job to provide for my family, I’ll be honest: I felt a bit like Mr Incredible when he was the insurance agent, and grumpy about it, sarcastically lamenting how he was “changing the world one life insurance policy at a time.” For me, it was “changing the world one bank account at a time.” But that time away from full-time (salaried) ministry made me that much more hungry for when I returned to missionary service. I don’t take my current position for granted, and cherish this meaningful way to fulfill my calling. And that 18 months full-time at the bank made me more sensitive to the workplace pressures and challenges that most of our non-clergy brothers and sisters face on a daily basis.

    • Levi Jones says:

      That has been my experience. I have enjoyed my new position as an admissions counselor for NTS. But, it has definitely allowed me to experience again the hunger for ministry as pastor of a people. Although that doesn’t mean that I can’t be pastoral, it is different. I’ve learned a lot being a parishioner and working in a different environment.

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