Every now and then I have a conversation – face-to-face, by e-mail, or by phone – with individuals who have been in “Church Leadership” (perhaps for many years), but who have now left the Institutional Church, out of a positive conviction that that is not God’s “way ahead” for them.  Sometimes, however, in such conversations, I sense what I would describe as “a tinge of regret – for lost opportunities”.  These good people have once had some kind of specific teaching and/or pastoring role.  They don’t seem in any doubt that they have “done the right thing” in moving away from the structured system, but they do miss the experience they often had of being able to share God’s Word with a sizeable number of people at the same time, or even with a sizeable number of people on a one-to-one basis.  They miss the wide range of opportunities – for using their God-given gifts – that “official” church leadership gave them.

I have also had conversations, along similar lines, with Church Leaders who are still very much part of the Institutional Church, but who, at the same time, empathise with the approach taken in this website, or in my two books: “Custom and Command” and “The Remarkable Replacement Army”.  They seem to think along the following lines: “In some ways, I do want to give up my involvement with the Institution, but I worry about turning my back on the channels I currently have for teaching God’s Word publicly and privately.”  They, too, are bothered by the suspicion that leaving the “System” will cuts them off from the wide range of opportunities, that “official” church leadership gives them, for using their God-given gifts.

If any of you reading this article are now feeling a “loss of opportunities”, or are fearing that there would be such a loss, should you move away from the existing system, here is what I want to say to you: IF YOU ARE A GENUINELY COMMITTED FOLLOWER OF JESUS, STARTING TO OPERATE OUTSIDE THE INSTITUTIONAL CHURCH, A WHOLE NEW SET OF OPPORTUNITIES WILL GRADUALLY BUILD UP – THOUGH IT WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY BE DIFFERENT FROM THE SET YOU HAD IN THE PAST.

Having said that, I would want to point out three personal attitudes that will be helpful if this is to come about.  The first is expectancy – the expectancy that, if God gives us gifts, He will continue to make use of them in some creative way, however much circumstances may change.  Romans 11:29 says: “God’s gifts…are irrevocable”.  One of the characteristics of our Heavenly Father, that I have come to recognise over the years, is that He is not wasteful. If God has given you an understanding of His Word, and His Ways, I am certain that He won’t squander what He has given you.

The second attitude you will need is humility.  No matter what role you have had in your original ‘scene’, if you move to a revolutionary new scene, you must be prepared to start again at the bottom of the ladder. To use the metaphor of “The Remarkable Replacement Army”: Former army officers who joined the Resistance had to engage in the very ordinary tasks of opposition to the Nazis, before they had their particular talents and experience recognised, and were used, by the Allied High Command, for special operations of various kinds.  So don’t contrive anything – in a desperate attempt to remain influential.  Wait for an unmistakeable lead from our Commander-in-Chief.  The Scriptures say that there is actually nothing wrong with wanting to be a useful influence in the Kingdom. (“If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task” – 1st Timothy 3:1.)  But they also say: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up” – James 4:10.)

The final attitude that I comment is adaptability.  You must be open to your God-given gifts God being used through channels that are very different from those through which they were previously used.  I have no doubt that some of you may find yourselves on the receiving-end of unsolicited requests for Bible Teaching on specific subjects, and even for whole “teaching series”.  (I know of several former church-leaders who have experienced this – some of them even being ‘badgered’ by young people.)  Many of you, however, may find yourselves being led into alternative channels-of-service.  Personally, I found myself – rather unexpectedly – writing a couple of books, and then answering on-going queries through this website.  I know former church leaders in a European country who – equally unexpectedly – have been drawn into an important supportive role for a group of Christians, in a developing “non-Western” country, who are experiencing a vibrant Christian lifestyle without any connection to the Institutional Church.

Many of you will find fulfilment in simply being prepared to be a blessing to individuals.  It may not seem as good a use-of-time as offering counsel to a whole group, as you once did in sermons and talks, but specific advice, in actual situations, is often more helpful (and more appreciated) than general ‘blanket’ advice.  Don’t force yourself, as an adviser, on anyone – but respond to situations where you sense that the Lord has given you something to say.  Your knowledge of the Word, and your experience of its out-working, will make a real contribution “outside the camp”.

However our Heavenly Father works things out, in your personal situation, I am totally convinced that His gifts in you, though they may be re-directed, will not be wasted.