Thursday, January 1, 2009


This is part one of a series on leaving the contemporary evangelical church and returning to a mainline congregation. My wife and I recently joined a Lutheran church (ELCA) after having pastored and served in mostly non-denominational churches for 30 years.

The rest of the story...

Here's a bit of background about us...
  • We met at and graduated from a fundamentalist, dispensational Bible college
  • Served in an independent Baptist church in New England
  • Went to seminary at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Ev Free Church), one of the most prominent evangelical seminaries in the world
  • While there, served in a fundamentalist Bible church (IFCA)
  • Moved to Indianapolis, where I was an associate pastor at a non-denominational, evangelical "Community" church
  • Moved to a sister church, where I was the senior pastor
  • Resigned and began serving as a hospice chaplain, a ministry I hold to this day
  • While exercising my chaplain ministry, I helped at a couple of independent churches—one with more of a Bible church/Baptist background, the other with folks who came from the Nazarene tradition
Let me also share some facts from my journey that are pertinent to this series of posts.
  • Bible college taught me to love the Bible as God's Word, and that one of my primary duties as a pastor would be to mine its riches and give God's people the tools to do the same.
  • My first pastoral experience, in a small, rural New England village church, taught me that people matter most. That congregation really trained me to have a pastor's heart and not to put too much stock in programs or strategies. I did a lot of visiting, leading worship, teaching, and pastoral care.
  • During those early years, I began to study about worship. A few significant trips to Grace Chapel in Lexington, MA, an evangelical church with a high view of worship, introduced me to the subject and whetted my appetite for deeper understanding in this area.
  • In seminary, I took the first class on worship they had ever offered. My teachers also introduced me to Eugene Peterson and his teaching on the pastoral role, which is deeply critical of the way the vocation is being practiced in contemporary America.
  • Seminary also helped me focus my attention on the Apostle Paul, not only his doctrine but also his pastoral theology. I began to hunger to see the same convictions and priorities that moved him motivate me also.
  • As an associate pastor I was responsible for worship and music. This proved to be an apprenticeship in learning and teaching about worship, as well as overseeing the practical details of planning and implementing worship week after week. Robert Webber's writings began to have more of an impact on my thinking, and I had the privilege of having him come to our church and lead a worship seminar.
  • My last senior pastor position was in a troubled church, and though many good things came from our stay there, ultimately I resigned in the midst of insoluble problems and found myself for the first time wondering about my vocation and not knowing where to turn next.
  • In God's providence I was able to find a position as a hospice chaplain. This work has been an unmitigated blessing. As one who goes every day to people's homes, hospitals and nursing homes, I began to experience more than ever before the great joy of ministering out in the world and not just within the "temple" (church programs).
In a nutshell, this summarizes some of the formative experiences and influences that have shaped my view of the church, worship, the pastoral ministry, and the mission of God's people in the world. Of course, this is just a summary. There is so much more to say, especially about the specific people who have blessed and influenced my thinking and life.

These points will help you understand a little bit of where I'm coming from in upcoming posts, as I lament the condition of evangelicalism today and relate why our journey has led us in this season of life to a mainline congregation.


Anonymous said...

From your introduction, I'm looking forward to your journey as you lament.

Boethius said...

I will look forward to reading about your journey.

One question which already pops into my mind is, "Would you have considered a mainline church at this stage of your life if your last pastorate had not been difficult resulting in your resignation? Also, the freedom from denominational association that your new ministry provides, does that not contribute to your search down mainline church roads.

Michael Mercer said...

Boethius, our last experience certainly contributed, but not in the way you suggest. As I will outline in a future post, one of the flaws I see in the evangelical, entrepreneurial model is that pastors are on their own, without ongoing support and accountability, and without a net should they fall. A more traditional denominational structure, while it may not work in all cases, at least provides a system above the local church level where, theoretically, pastors can find support and help if they need it.

You are also correct that becoming a chaplain freed me up to consider other options and allowed me to have broader experiences that opened my eyes to new possibilities.

Boethius said...

Thank you for your quick reply.

My local non-denominational church recently went through the adoption process through Vineyard for the very reason you cite. My pastor wanted others to go to for support.

The most liturgical tradition we have implemented to date is weekly communion.