Jim Belcher, Francis Chan, N.T. Wright, and Others Leave the Pastorate to Write and Speak
Only in contemporary America do you have the phenomenon of former pastors making their living as conference speakers and authors, historian David Bebbington notes in his 1994 article "British and American Evangelicalism Since 1940." He cites a number of other contributing factors: (A) Americans tend to be more suspicious of institutions but open to individual leaders and their books. "A mixture of populism, individualism, democratization, and market-making has recently been defined as the essence of the American way. … Deference remained almost as powerful a force in Britain as egalitarianism in America." (B) There is far more land to plant new churches. "In America the planting of new churches seemed infinitely easier." (C) There are far more Christians in the U.S. to buy books. In the year 2000, in the United States, the percentage of married persons who attend church regularly was 52 percent; unmarried 38 percent. In the UK, the percent for married persons was 17 percent and for unmarried persons 13 percent. (D) American Christians are far more accustomed to Christian media. For example, in the UK, there was no Christian radio or TV—"a monopoly of the airwaves was entrusted to the British Broadcasting Corporation." (E) Finally, people in the U.S. have tended to be wealthier than those in the UK.
The question remains: Is this phenomenon of former pastors becoming full-time conference speakers and authors a good thing? Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove suggests it's not in his new book, The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture. A successful author trying to live in Christian community, Wilson Hartgrove argues that there is a maturity that comes when people know you. Still, it is problematic for us to judge people from a distance for their vocational decisions. "If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?" (1 Cor 12:17). We should be careful not to assume that these moves are made out of pride. In Sunday's sermon, for example, Chan was particulary eager to emphasize that he felt God is leading him to greater obscurity, not prominence. But even when prominence does come with these moves, we can all be thankful for good writing and speaking. Maybe God is setting aside some people for these tasks so that the body of Christ might be built up.
Andy Rowell is a Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) student at Duke Divinity School. He blogs at AndyRowell.net.
Note: This article has been updated since its original posting to clarify Chan's announcement.