Brothers and sisters in Christ, especially my family at Michigan Lutheran Seminary-
I can’t say it’s been a surprise, but it’s certainly been an experience listening to friends and families share their conjectures with me. Sometimes it’s what they’ve heard from others and sometimes what they’ve personally thought. I wanted to put up this post to try to ease some tensions and to try not to lose the value of my resigning for the good of the ministry.
We have a few terms in our circles for describing different kinds of resignations. A resignation for cause is the one that I think people fear the most. Resignation for cause means that a called worker has done something sinful that disqualifies them from serving. A clear-cut example would be teaching heresy. Other more complicated issues would be getting caught in some big, public sin like adultery or embezzlement. The distinguishing mark of resignation for cause is the repentance that everyone will be hoping for. The forgiveness the resigned called worker receives is the same forgiveness we all receive—complete and unconditionally paid for by the blood of Christ. However, the called worker still must leave their post because leaders in the church are held to a higher standard than those who serve as members. “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap” (1 Timothy 3:2-4,7). There is the possibility that the called worker might return under some circumstances, but the reputation requirements do make it difficult.
A called worker may also resign for personal reasons. Due to circumstances in his life, he cannot do the work. Perhaps his health is failing. Perhaps his family can’t handle the pressures of the ministry at this point in their lives. Perhaps it is an issue in which his wife needs extra attention so that he does not feel he is able to offer due attention to his work. These things could certainly be addressed in a way that allowed a return to the ministry if the the worker desired it.
There are some circumstances that are much more difficult to parse. There is no great, public sin. Inability to serve is not the issue. As a leader the called worker has a decision to make in a difficult situation and reaches the conclusion that the best thing for the ministry of the gospel in general and the ministry of the calling body in particular is that he simply step away, confident that the Lord of the church will provide another worker to take his place.
That’s where I am. I came here to offer myself in whatever service the school needed most. I can’t say that I thought this was the service my alma mater would need most from me, but I’m confident that is the very best service I could offer under these very unexpected circumstances.
What were the circumstances? That’s the thing, my friends. I can only serve the school by this resignation if I am able to take the reasons with me. I can only tell you why I didn’t resign. Did my marriage need intensive counseling? I’m happy to take the free counseling that the synod offers to help us deal with the upcoming transition, but I could have gotten that without resigning through the Member Assistance Program that operates right out of the school, too. Plus, that would be a resignation for personal reasons. Does it have to do with my hospitalization last spring? That’s an interesting coincidence, but that issue has been corrected (and, again, that would be personal reasons). Did I do something wrong? I do plenty, but nothing to disqualify me from serving in the ministry. Last but not least, is there something going on in the synod that a poor, naive parish pastor couldn’t handle looking at and so he had to walk away? Brothers and sisters, walking away from that wouldn’t be for the good of the ministry, would it? Of course not. There’s plenty I’d still like to work on in the ministerial education system and in the synod, too, and, quite frankly, I wanted to keep working on those issues as the president of MLS and as a delegate to the 2011 convention (I was up next for the first time in my ministry). Those things were hard to give up.
So thank you for your concerns and prayers. I still have my CRM status, which means that I am still eligible to preach and receive a call. But I will be looking for a job while my family heals from this. We will be mourning the joy of serving at MLS. Will I go back to the ministry? I’d like to, but I want to be sure of my family’s feelings first. Resignations like this are rare but still possible, no matter where you serve. I can tell them how unlikely a similar situation would be, but first I want to make sure that it won’t sound to them something like talking about the rarity of a plane crash to someone who has just survived one.
Thanks again for your support and prayers, and God bless you all with the peace that comes from knowing that the omnipotent Father in heaven was more willing to let his perfectly faithful Son die innocently for our sins rather than see us die in them—and especially with the peace of his victory over our death.
Your brother in Christ,