"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.
That night my mentor stopped by to check on me. He's a dear friend in ministry and I filled him in on my conversation earlier that day. As he so often has, he kindly affirmed the good work I've done here. But now, for the first time, he said it was probably time to move on. I'd done all I could, and should probably find another ministry role to which I would be better suited.
This was a lot to absorb in one day: first, the "wounds from a friend," and then the fatherly counsel to move on. I slept on it.