the weblog of Alan Knox

Have you left “vocational ministry”?

Posted by on Jul 26, 2013 in elders, office | 17 comments

A few days ago, I published a post called “The non-vocational option.” In that post, I explained that a few years ago, when I felt God leading me to more consistent service to his people, I was given two options: vocational pastor or vocational missionary.

So, back in 2002, my family moved to North Carolina so that I could attend seminary and get a job with a church as a vocational pastor. During my time in seminary – primarily through studying Scripture – I decided that the New Testament presents another option: the non-vocational option.

In response to that post, a reader named Scott left the following comment:

I think it would be helpful for some to share stories of people who made the transition from vocation to non-vocation and how they did it. Perhaps you could share stories of how you’ve helped in this regard and have others write up their stories of how they did it.

I believe this would be very helpful to many out there. It would also make for fascinating reading.

Now, I have never been a “vocational minister.” I have never been paid by a church. Although that was the direction that I was heading in 2002, God changed my plans over the next few years.

However, like Scott, I think it would be extremely helpful to hear the stories of people who have left “vocational ministry.” I know that some quit to find a “secular job” for many different reasons. Others are forced out, being fired by their church for different reasons and decide to never return.

The only person who I know (personally) who has “left the ministry” is Eric from “A Pilgrim’s Progress.” You can read his story on a page of his blog called “Why I resigned.”

I would love to hear your story too. Why did you leave “vocational ministry”? How did you support yourself and your family immediately after the job change? How do you support your family now? How do you serve your brothers and sisters in Christ now? What advice do you have for people who are considering leaving “vocational ministry”?

You can either leave a comment here, or send me an email at alan [at] alanknox [dot] net. I will not publish your story without your consent.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 7-26-2013

    I’m the counter-example.

    I worked in professional ministry for several years. I had dropped out of college (for many legit reasons) and felt I had a calling to Christian ministry that I had ignored. I started working in ministry full time and achieved a solid reputation as someone who delivered. I ran into opposition to new ideas, but I made those new ideas work.

    But as my 20s slipped away, I hit that “workable career” barrier. I had no degree. People said I was wasting my intellect. One day, while running a retreat through my church, a man came up to me and noted the ease I had in doing this kind of work. He reiterated that having my degree would open up more doors for me in ministry. So I took a chance, applied late to a notable Christian college, and I not only got in, but I got close to a full-ride scholarship for being an older student in a ministry major. I ended up graduating in the top of my class and winning a scholarship voted on by faculty and students as most deserving senior student.

    But while I was in college, several high-profile scandals changed the face of ministry for single men. When I went back to the ministry job market, despite my new training and references from some of the top leaders in ministry, every interview meant having to deal with being single at 30. I once drove 10 hours one way to an interview only to have it end at that question (which could be legally asked since housing was often provided). When I finally did get a job offer after a year of searching, it was rescinded when the ministry found out I was not married. I spent another year looking, burning through what little money I had. In short, broke, getting nowhere, I walked away from vocational ministry.

    There will probably be stories here of how wonderful leaving vocational ministry is. But it isn’t always. I’m sure there are many out there who wonder “what if?” and think that it could have gone a different way. I don’t run into them regularly, but I do sometimes. Walking away from vocational ministry doesn’t always end in a clear “you did the right thing” verification, and I’m sure there are many, like me, who think that perhaps walking away exacts a toll one can’t see until many years later.

  2. 7-26-2013


    I’m not looking for “wonderful” stories. I’m looking for real stories. And, thank you for sharing yours with us. What job did God finally provide for you to support yourself? How are you serving your brothers and sisters now?


  3. 7-26-2013

    It is exactly 6 years ago that I resigned from my paid ‘Pastoral ministry’. It was not without pain, doubt, hurt, rejection issues but it was a position I could no longer hold. When Jesus said ‘no one could pour new wine into old wineskins’ I thought I knew better. I thought I could change the whole ethos of church life into a place of all actively contributing with whatever gifts/lack of gifts they had. I failed, they got frustrated, they left, withheld their finances, questioned everything. I can see the moment now where I sat in a leadership meeting and was asked to be more of a Pastor to the people instead of who I was. I resigned with immediate effect. I had no source of income, my wife was a home maker so not working either, I naively thought an itinerant ministry would open up as I had often spoke in conferences here in Wales and beyond. The phone went silent, the contacts disappeared, the disillusionment set in. The debts piled up, I hit depression, lack of identity and it almost cost me my marriage. Loneliness and inactivity killed. From preaching three to four times a week to nothing. But God! I had packed up my belongings and moved out, I sat in an hotel room and had no thought of God, but He was there. No voice or angelic appearances or prophetic words, just a sense that even in the depths He was there. For years I had sensed a time of the church flowing out of the building and almost becoming invisible, flowing like water with the contours of the land. A church that no man could run or lead, but be a part of daily with others. Gatherings taking place as life unfolds on street corners, over kitchen tables, in living rooms, in coffee houses, at work. With believers, doubters and unbelievers. Little did I know how I would become a part of this. It took six months to get a job. We are still recovering from the debt. With four kids it was hard. I now work the night shift in Asda. I hated it at first, but now love the sense of community and how God shapes so many conversations and activities. Have see a couple of guys become Christians, seen atheists become agnostics, supported the bereaved, those going through divorce, prayed for the kids and laughed at their jokes. I have no position or title but see the positioning of God in it all. Have often thought about starting a small group or church but feel that I am where I need to be. The journey and life is now my vocation. I feel so free. I do get invited to speak sometimes, and do so, but prefer sitting around a table talking one on one. Have travelled to visit people on similar journeys to Kenya, Latvia and within the UK. I belong to no Sunday congregation but feel like I always belong. The internet is amazing in joining dots that create a picture of something beautiful God is doing. Have found connection with those in the margins, those rejected, those who have walked away. Isolated people finding each other, just like the Cave of Addullum. What advice would I give others looking to leave? Follow your heart and let the journey unfold. Do not hold onto anything too tightly, especially those you think will always be around. There will be pain, questions and uncharted territory but learn to embrace the grey. Learn to love the space and contradictions. Don’t allow criticism and advice from ‘Job’s friends’ to sway you, follow your heart. Grasp every day as part of the fulfilled journey. Love the day of small beginnings, and accept you may dwell here until you get to heaven. Two or three gathering may just be more than enough. God is enough. My journey continues to unfold and I blog weekly about whatever is going on at
    Hope this helps, much blessing, Paul.

  4. 7-26-2013

    At 28 I joined a missions agency as a recruiter, went to Seminary, and eventually became a full time missionary, itinerantly traveling to Africa several months out of each year leading workshops in discipleship and community development. As I learned about the organic nature of the Church, I encountered a community that frowned on professional ministries. I had been an apostle in the organized church world, but not the organic one, where being a brother first was promoted and valued before ever being sent. Where I worked was considered Babylon.

    I had an opportunity to expand my activities as a pro musician giving lessons in the community. We mortgaged the house to start a business. Five years later, that original organic community is mired in scandal, we are out of money, and I struggle to pay the bills. My wife has gone back to work full time while I take care of my kids half time and run my lessons half time.

    i am still an organic guy, but I have organic friends who have used that platform to lead their staffs and work to become more organic. If you are thinking about leaving, I would really make sure you have a team of people around you who support the action and are transitioning you into a firm path. I felt like I had no other option. I think God honors the faith and courage, but people need not pick up a snake unnecessarily.

  5. 7-26-2013

    I would be interested to hear how many left vocational ministry because of negative circumstances and how many because God was calling them to another sphere of service.

    I left a vocational pastorate after seven years because God called me to become a church planter. This happened my last year of seminary. I spent the next couple years helping to plant a church, along side a vocational church planter. My wife and I gladly served on that team in a completely volunteer capacity, doinging everything from preaching to parking cars, running soundboards, setup/teardown, and developing children’s ministry. I supported my family through my counseling job (I personally feel that is is wise for every minister to have an employable skill/trade.)

    After 2.5 years, that church sent me and my wife to plant another church, where I was the lead planter. This has been a vocational role (though I have worked bi-vocationally and tri-vocationally through the planting process.)

    We have served this church for over 12 years now. We have both vocational and volunteer pastors/elders, and an army of lay leaders. We still meet in a movie theater on purpose, and in our homes in small groups throughout the week. I continue to serve as an adjunct professor to train church planters and pastors in a local baptist college.

    In the NT, both vocational and volunteer ministry (including elders) is presented as valid and noble.

  6. 7-26-2013

    I am loving these stories, THANK YOU!!

    Paul Leader – your comment was very encouraging to me, thank you! Not belonging to a Sunday fellowship but feeling like you always belonged. I feel like that too. “Follow your heart and let the journey unfold. Do not hold onto anything too tightly, especially those you think will always be around. There will be pain, questions and uncharted territory but learn to embrace the grey. Learn to love the space and contradictions. Don’t allow criticism and advice from ‘Job’s friends’ to sway you, follow your heart. Grasp every day as part of the fulfilled journey.” Such good advice, thank you!!

  7. 7-26-2013

    Thank you for the encouraging words Randi. Glad some of my scribbles resonated with you. Bless you loads on your on going journey.

  8. 7-26-2013

    I suppose I don’t really count? I also decided against returning to the pastorate while I was in seminary. I tried several jobs over the course of a year (laundry company, carpet cleaner, etc), but finally landed as a prison chaplain.

    So my income doesn’t come from the church, but I am still in a type of “full-time” ministry, I suppose….

  9. 7-26-2013


    Thanks for the link and for this post!

  10. 7-26-2013

    Thanks for sharing your examples and comments, everyone!


  11. 7-26-2013

    Thank you for the stories!

  12. 7-27-2013

    Very moving to hear from the hearts and souls of these brethren. Stirs up my appreciation for the variety, colorfulness and beauty of the family of God. I am sure that God looks on our struggles as we journey through this life and our efforts to please Him, with affection and compassion. I am sure we do give him joy in our attempts to follow His leading, to find His will for our lives…just as our little ones give us great joy as we watch them grow and master the tasks of survival in a big unfamiliar and challenging world. Nice topic for sharing. Thanks everyone.

  13. 7-27-2013


    Thank you for asking for the stories. 🙂


    I agree. I always love to hear about the lives and journeys of my brothers and sisters in Christ.


  14. 7-28-2013

    Over 15 years I moved from a church of thousands to a church of hundreds (worship pastor roles) to a church plant starting from scratch. We were seeking a more relational life and ministry all along the way. Each move was a step in the right direction. The church plant was a fantastic mission community network model with one glaring weakness – it was my FT employment. After a year the experience and momentum were very good but the numbers didn’t bear it out, so the denomination downsized. But we finally learned our lesson – if my conviction is that the church shouldn’t run like a business, then I shouldn’t try to be an employee of it. My wife and I are currently employed as a houseparent couple at a residential school, and in some ways see this as the place we were headed all along. For me, professional ministry was subtly dehumanizing and always inhibited relationships to a degree. I can’t place all the blame on my old job(s), but I also know I can’t go back.

  15. 7-28-2013

    Prior to going to seminary, I worked on staff as a leader for nearly 10 years. I decided to go to seminary with the full expectation of going to work in a local church.

    While I was in seminary, I felt a strong call to social justice and through a friendship with a woman who was experiencing homelessness, God guided me along a path that led to the founding of a non-profit called Embrace Richmond.

    While I still consider myself a minister, my official title is Executive Director. We are funded primarily by Christians and churches that want to see real systemic change in some of our cities more challenged neighborhoods. So, I guess I am a hybrid of sorts. I don’t exactly fit in to the “non-profit circles” nor do I fit in with the “pastor groups.”

    While not very many people would call what we do a “church.” Through, the relationships I have formed over the past 8 years and the communities that have developed out of our work, I have experienced the most authentic form of Christian community I have ever known.

  16. 7-28-2013

    Wow!! Those are such cool & amazing stories Wendy & Ryan. Each path is so different… I am so thankful I am on MY path because I am pretty sure I couldn’t handle anybody else’s 🙂

  17. 7-28-2013

    Ryan and Wendy,

    Thank you for sharing your stories with us!