A version of this article appeared recently at iamsteveaustin.com.

This is a confession of a recovering pastor.

Yes, I’ve been a pastor before. Those of you who have followed my story know I’ve even quit “for good” twice. Although, I’ve come to realize that the call never runs out, so we’ll see what the future holds.

I want to confess something to you that many “professional” clergy know, but hesitate to admit.

Why do we hesitate to admit this that I’m going to confess? Many individual reasons, I’m sure. But likely it has something to do with the reality that our livelihoods so often depend on not facing this truth.

Ok, then, here is the confession: the system of religion we most often refer to as “church” doesn’t have much to do with following Jesus.

The system of religion we most often refer to as “church” doesn’t have much to do with following Jesus. Click To Tweet

Now, the system of church I’m referring to is the administration, the business, and in some ways the polity. It is not the ecclesia of gathered followers of Jesus. If you want to hear more about those differences, check out this episode of the Reimagining Podcast on reimagining church.

And in the quick video below, I expand on this confession a bit …


Maybe you’ve been told you need to show up to worship services at a particular building with some regularity in order to follow Jesus.

No, you don’t.

No, you don’t. (What if we gathered with other people trying to follow this Way, however poorly or regularly, because we actually wanted to?)

Maybe you’ve been told you need to give money and resources to support the institution of the church in order to follow Jesus.

No, you don’t. (What if we shared with each other because that’s how we thought our love could be put in action?)

Maybe you’ve been told you need to officially become a member of the system by putting your name on the dotted line in order to follow Jesus.

No, you don’t. (What if we considered ourselves part of humanity first, and then as members of each other?)

What if we considered ourselves part of humanity first, and then as members of each other? Click To Tweet

See, it’s difficult to call a system “unnecessary” when our paycheck comes from that system.

That was my concern for quite a while. By the second time I walked away from being a professional pastor, I had a family of five to support. We had to eat. We had bills. We needed health insurance. If I wasn’t pastoring, how could my family survive?

Actually, the deeper concern we clergy types might have is this: if we are honest about the system, the system may collapse. Then what will we do?


There is something beyond death.

Here’s the thing: if we are honest with our words in confessing all that’s messed up about the system, the system won’t collapse. Instead, when more and more of us become courageous enough to be honest about the shortcomings of the church system, we might discover there is something beyond death.

It’s true, some parts of this whole church system thing we think we know may die. But the existential paradox of the Jesus story suggests that death is necessary for resurrection to happen.

Resurrection is powerful. Resurrection makes everything new. Resurrection takes what is and re-narrates, re-fashions, re-traditions it into something that hasn’t yet been. And that’s exciting.

Resurrection is why I’m recovering. Because the old in me is continually being made new.

recovering pastor

The same thing is happening with the church system. We just need to be brave enough to admit it. When we do, I suspect we’ll discover that what hasn’t yet been is, in fact, just what we’ve always been looking for.

Yes, we will always have some type of system with us. We are humans, and humans strive for structure and organization. That’s essentially what religion is: humans structuring and organizing systems in flawed attempts to figure out the divine.

But even in the shambles of imperfect systems we may just find resurrection.

And it might look something like this:

  • a system that serves and supports all the outsiders, instead of deferring to the powerful;
  • a system that gives itself away in little acts of death so that something bigger than itself can be birthed through resurrection;
  • an institution that sacrifices itself for the life of the world.

Here’s one more confession: I see this future already breaking into the present in small places all around the fringes of the system.

And this recovering pastor wants to become more and more a part of this resurrection.



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