My Take on Andy Rowell's Article in CT About Those Leaving the Pastorate to Write and Speak

Here’s a couple of thoughts regarding Andy Rowell’s Article in Christianity Today, “Jim Belcher, Francis Chan, N.T. Wright, and Others Leave the Pastorate to Write and Speak: Why church planters often quit their congregations.”

First, I liked that Andy wrote it. I do not know him personally, just thought it was a worthy piece.

Second, Andy refers to all these departures, sabbaticals, breaks as a “phenomenon” – you need to admit, it seems “something” is going on.

Third, no one ought to judge the intentions of any of names mentioned.

Fourth, I think it’s worth remembering that today’s conference speaker bears some similarity with the 19th century evangelist. And the tradition of the evangelists has not always been a bad thing if you can get past the idea of today’s “televangelist” whom Paul says “there is not one good, not one” (I will abuse context the way they do) Which leaves me wondering, when are some of those guys going to participate in this phenomenon and take a non-scandoulous break?

Fifth, at the same time, it would be wise of us to seriously consider how we define success and faithfulness in ministry. Why are most of our conference speakers successful writers, and either pastors or leaders of large(r) organizations? Would it beyond our logic to have a pastor from a small church in Arkansas be a speaker at a Cataylst event and say, “I graduated with my MDIV with a grander vision than Billy Hybels and I am a more talented speaker and writer than Rick Warren. But God called me to this church outside of “outside of Little Rock”, where I have been pastoring for the last 30 years … let me tell you what I have learned about the ministry …”

Maybe the next day another presenter can begin with, “I apologize that I have come late to this event and that I will need to leave as soon as I am finished speaking but my schedule is a bit complicated at the moment. See, I have just accepted a position as the worship pastor at this new church. It’s my fourth pastorate in 7 years now, and we have a disabled child and a world of debt but I was asked to share about my experience in the ministry and so here’s what I can tell you …”. I think many of would be able to connect with something like that.

While I do not think Chan or Belcher or anyone ever used the church as a “farm team”, it would seem a bit naive to assume that some leaders are not guilty of this, or at least trying to do this. And while i have always been suspicious on just how lucrative and fulfilling the speaking circuit is for the long term, I have always seen the presenter as a position of value. Of course I do, I chase down theologians and writers like I used to chase down baseball players to sign my Upper Deck cards.

Sixth, I absolutely loved David Fitch’s post, “Do You Trust an Author on the Church Who Leaves His/Her Church?”. After I read it, I decided not to post this (then I read something else and I changed my mind). Also, there was also an excellent comment on this post by Nathaniel Snow (May 11, 10:24am) about the publishing industry and copyright being part of the empire (for those of you who appreciate that discussion).

Seventh, it is my impression that almost of all the names have been pardoned in either a post or a comment except for Jim Belcher. Wright gets pardoned because we are all afraid he’ll write a book tomorrow addressing this nonsense. It’s preface will begin with “I don’t really have the time to write this but my flight has been delayed and the fellow next to me was kind enough to loan me his iPod Touch …”

Rollins gets pardoned because he has more friends than Ashton Kutcher. And unlike Kutcher, he doesn’t care. Further, he’s not a pastor (read the tweets, he’s not a pastor! ;-) We are all crazy in love with Francis Chan so he is excused and I think everyone accepts that he wants to do something different – good for him.

From where I sit, Belcher is the only one that no one has defended (I may not be following the right people). But it seems to me that some of have pretty much said, “Yeah, he wrote a best-selling book and is cashing out.” What’s wrong with him leaving the pastorate at this time? Ministering in the Kingdom is a life-long calling, but I am not sure the pastorate is and I do not write that as someone who hopes to get out.

I don’t know Belcher, but listened to the audio version of Deep Church, liked a good bit of it, liked his voice and while I do not connect with some of what he concludes, I think he has done a great thing for us in the Kingdom, especially those of us who are in the middle of the emerging-traditional church discussion. Does that mean he “deserves” a break? No, he could have taken the break even if he had not written anything – it simply seems that he and his family need a break.

It seems that there a few bloggers out there that are disappointed that the sales of his book have allowed him to take a break. You are envious and mean … and I hope your computer crashes (And if it did, I suggest you ask Belcher to buy you a new one ;-). For all we know he’s a powerball winner but in seriousness, good for him for writing something worthy buying. (After the free download, I bought the book to support the “artist” – a virtue learned from my Napster days). But not only is it good for Belcher, good for the many of us who finally contributed to the success of a book that didn’t have these words in the title ‘Your Best’, ‘Personal Prosperity’, ‘Success’, or “Vote for Me and I Will Make All Your Dreams Come True!”. Seriously, it’s about time some of us bought something worthy from CBD. Now if he comes out with a book called, The Deeper Life, Examining a Third Way Beyond the Missional Life and the Celebrity Life” with devotional journal, Deep Meditative cd and his own edition of the Your Deep Life Now study Bible, then let the barrage begin.

But to make this simple, and to offer a “third way” – as a proud pluralist, it’s easy for me to reconcile the way of JIm Belcher, the words of Andy Rowell and the life of David Fitch. And while I hope my career resembles more of Fitch. Assuming he is following the leading of the Holy Spirit, he is allowed to change his mind too. I think what we can gain from Rowell’s article is have we created an unhealthy speaker-writer culture that is unhealthy for our local churches? Regardless of recent departures and personalities, some reform is needed on who we give a mic and pen to.


  1. Tim this is an excellent post, seriously. I’ve been skeptical of those who leave their churches for careers as writers (McLaren is one of those) but this is a well balanced post. I really, really think you hit the nail on the head with “It seems that there a few bloggers out there that are disappointed that the sales of his book have allowed him to take a break. You are envious and mean … and I hope your computer crashes..” well, except for the computer crashing part…

    On top of all of this I wanted to test your comments to see how they were working.

  2. Thanks brother, I appreciate your kind words.

    Appreciate all your work on the blog – it looks great!

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