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Home > 2013 > September Web Exclusives > My Big Demotion

"Who aspires to be demoted?!" My friend asked, only half-joking.

He wasn't the only one wondering why I, a lead pastor, wished to return to my previous role as a pastor of discipleship. Even more unusual, I wanted to be "demoted" but remain at my church.

To understand this seemingly strange desire, you have to know a little more about my journey. I began serving at my current church as pastor of discipleship in 2006, just shy of the church's third birthday. Less than a year later, when the founding senior pastor resigned abruptly, I was thrust into the role of solo lead pastor, one I filled for six years.

It's not that I couldn't hack it. My preaching was well-received, and the church grew under my leadership. But the new role left me feeling uneasy. And I couldn't shake the unrest no matter how well I seemed to be doing.

I tried everything I knew to make the shoe fit. I surrounded myself with capable advisors, and carefully cultivated relationships with pastoral peers and mentors. I was coached and counseled. I read widely. But through the years, I knew deep down that I simply was not thriving in the lead role.

Preaching weekly was taking a high toll. Whereas other preachers spoke of how they "couldn't wait" to preach, I mostly couldn't wait till noon on Sunday! Preaching wasn't a joyless task for me, but it did involve dread and anxiety. I was honored to preach, but the weekly uphill battle exhausted me.

Leading solo was stressful, and I longed to be part of a team (without the unique pressures of being the top dog). Though we were a relatively healthy, growing church, I knew that my innate lack of decisiveness and strategic thinking were hindering our progress organizationally and exhausting me personally.

I'd proven that I could do the job, but this didn't mean that I should do so indefinitely. I was able to serve "for such a time as this," but I knew that being competent isn't the same as being called to a particular role over the long haul.

I was growing to embrace who I actually am: a pastor who cares for souls and equips people to do ministry—but not one who thrives in a solo lead role.

I'd had too many family dinners where I was physically present but mentally absent, preoccupied with the church. I have four kids under 10 years old. I didn't want to miss another day of these irreplaceable years.

Instead of being so consumed with Sundays, I wanted to turn my attention to making disciples between Sundays. Eventually I came to feel called away from the lead role back to my original role as pastor of discipleship.

The dam breaks

But it wasn't until last April that I knew what to do. In an intense two-day period, I had four crucial conversations: with a couple in our church, my mentor, an old acquaintance, and my wife.

On the first day, a couple carefully expressed serious concerns about my leadership and the direction of the church. This was a good but difficult conversation.

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Related Topics:AuthorityFormationHumilitySoulTeamwork
Posted: September 30, 2013

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Displaying 1–5 of 13 comments

Jeffrey Cagwin

October 09, 2013  10:23pm

Thanks, Curt. I agree that there's something broken about the way we do church. The spirit of what we're pursuing here is one of partnership, and the hierarchy is more a recognition of our respective giftings (leadership vs discipleship). Seeking to live and model a partnership that honors Christ and the way He made us. We'll see how it goes! Jeff

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Curt Parton

October 08, 2013  7:33am

I deeply appreciate Jeff's story. It takes real courage to seek what looks like a demotion in order to be true to one's gifting. I admire this focus on the ministry God has given you. It's clear this resonates with a great many other pastors as well. I just can't help noticing that it's unfortunate we tend to follow a leadership structure that even requires a top dog to begin with. It seems that many pastors would be much more free to minister according to their unique gifting as part of a team of co-equal elders, with no one feeling the pressure to be the top dog by taking on a solo lead pastor role that Scripture doesn't teach or even mention. As much as I applaud Jeff's decision and find it an inspiring example, I think this reveals some unhealthy baggage in a familiar polity that is difficult to find in the Bible.

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Jeffrey Cagwin

October 08, 2013  6:30am

Thanks, Mark and Doug. Great to hear your stories!

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Doug Miller

October 04, 2013  1:36pm

Thank you for sharing!! This expresses exactly how I felt when I left solo pastoral ministry last year after serving 10 years in that role. Prior to that I too was a pastor of discipleship at a different church and it fit my 'wiring' perfectly. In that role the church thrived and so did I and my family. So I realized I wasn't cut out to be a 'Lead' or 'Solo' pastor, and that the church would not be able to move forward if I remained. The only thing I could do was resign. Thankfully the Lord has provided amazing healing this past year and I believe I'm finally ready to get back to searching for that position to which the Lord has best equipped and gifted me. Thanks for not only expressing your journey and your heart, but sharing mine as well.

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Mark Simpson

October 04, 2013  9:26am

I have been a "senior" pastor and a missions pastor, and I was better off, more suited to the missions pastor position. I served under a great senior pastor--that helped. So I sure do understand this article.

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