Confessions of an Ex-Pastor

I have a confession to make… I no longer feel called to be a pastor. 

First, before you unsubscribe or move on to the next blog, just give me a chance. 

Second, I can hear the honest but curious question racing through your head: “What did you do to get yourself kicked out?” Trust me, you’re not alone. 

A few months ago, I decided to make a transition from full-time vocational ministry to a new career path. This transition came quickly but wasn’t unexpected. For the last 3 years I’d been wrestling with my call and where my life was headed. 

This change in career, however, came from an authentic place.

Did I love my previous job? Absolutely.

Did I care about the people I served? 100%.

Was there any doubt that I was making an impact? No doubt. 

Then why was this change so hard? 

People who know me aren't surprised when I tell them about my new career path:  I help people design their career by understanding their unique identity and strengths, giving them the ability to navigate their calling.

But for people who knew what I used to do for a living, most, if not all, can’t seem to hide their what-did-you-do-to-get-fired look when they hear about my transition. In order to ease the pain I quickly respond with, “Well, I was just following my calling and passions” and move on to the next topic. But the damage is done… I’ve already felt the weight of shame squash me with implicit doubt and suspicion. 

I knew this transition was going to have its challenges but then why did it surprise me when I stepped down from my previous job? Why was this a shock to me? 

I never realized how much weight I placed on my title and position. 

***

Growing up, there were certain jobs that were more prestigious than others: lawyer, doctor, owning a successful business or being a pastor. Being a pastor made me feel like someone of significance. There was a level of trust and importance that came with this title. And for some, becoming a pastor is when you’ve “made it” so to speak. 

But what happens when you don’t feel called to being a pastor anymore? 

Well for one thing, whenever you hear about a pastor resigning from their role in the media, it’s often because they failed in some way. They’ve created a mess and now they have to move on.

But my situation was a little different. I simply felt called to move on and yet I still felt like I had failed in so many ways. 

How did I fail? 

Well for starters, I felt like I failed the community I worked so hard to cultivate. It seemed like I had let people down. Then, I felt shame because I felt like I needed to cover my tracks; to dispel the “single story” people might believe about me. (Listen to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s talk on “The Danger of a Single Story”). And finally, I felt shame because I no longer felt called to be a pastor. 

But this kind of shame is a deeply rooted human reality, isn’t it? We feel shame when we carry titles like: 

  • Single
  • Intern
  • Transfer student
  • Stay-at-home Parent
  • Unemployed
  • Undeclared
  • Welfare
  • Assistant
  • Ex-pastor

We feel shame when we believe the lie that our title defines who we are.

This lie associates our worth with what we do or what we used to do. Our work validates our human worth and shame is a byproduct of not feeling worthy. Worse yet, we feel like a fraud when we don’t live up to our titles or have to take a step back from it, like in my case. 

I confess that I feel shame for being an ex-pastor. I confess I've carried that burden and I am co-dependent with the titles that I carry. But at the same time, I confess that I feel called to this decision and don’t need to feel shame any longer. 

As my mentor frequently reminds me: “Shame is a useless emotion.” 

Today, I confess that I no longer need to feel that way anymore. 

 

Sincerely, 

Danny Kim (Shameless Ex-Pastor)