Why I Prefer “Local Ministry” Over the “Speaking Circuit”
Recently Tim Challies posted his personal reflections on The Speaking Circuit. Tim is a good friend and co-worker in the ministry. His blog is one of the most read Christian blogs in the world. I read him every day.
In his post, he expressed that for him leaving pastoral ministry to go on the speaking circuit might involve selfish motivations. I want to summarize his perspective. Then I will share my perspective of the “speaking circuit” compared to “local ministry.”
The gist of Tim’s post highlights a common theme: a pastor gains popularity and then leaves the local church behind and leaves pastoral ministry for the speaking circuit. “I can understand why and how people could give up leading the local church in favor of the speaking circuit.”
Tim goes on to say:
“Of course I cannot judge any other man’s motives. Unless a man chooses to reveal his reasons, I do not know why he decides to leave the pastorate to pursue writing or speaking or a combination of the two. However, though I cannot judge another person’s motives, I know that to some extent I can judge my own. And if I were to leave the pastorate to be a speaker and author, I think I know why I would do so.
It would come down to my heart. There is something about the speaking circuit that calls. There is something about it that offers something better (or something that tries to insist that it’s better). The speaking circuit offers a kind of affirmation, a kind of ease, that does not and cannot exist in the local church.
So I don’t know why another man would give up pastoring the local church to move on to other interests. But if I were to do so, at least right now, I think this would be it—the desire for all the benefits of the speaking circuit without the long, hard kind of love and commitment that comes with pastoring a local church. But if I did so, I know I’d be leaving behind the best thing of all.”
In those comments and the rest of Tim’s post, I might summarize Tim’s argument as follows:
1. Going on the speaking circuit could mean leaving the local church.
2. Going on the speaking circuit could be motivated by a desire for affirmation, admiration, admirers, applause, praise, etc.
3. Going on the speaking circuit could be motivated by ease.
4. Going on the speaking circuit could be motivated by money (honorarium).
5. Going on the speaking circuit could be motivated by the comfort of a nice hotel and nice restaurants.
Like Tim, I can’t evaluate anyone else’s motives for why they sense a call to one type of ministry over another. So all I can do is share my own story.
I did not shift my ministry focus from the pastoral ministry for the speaking circuit, but rather I shifted to the ministry of equipping and pastoring pastors as a seminary professor. So this is a bit of an apples to oranges comparison. At the same time, through RPM Ministries, I am involved in some speaking at conferences and seminars. So I can at least ponder what pastoral ministry and seminary ministry are like compared to “the speaking circuit.” For me, the comparison is really between “ongoing local ministry with people I know and who know me” and “the speaking circuit of broader ministry to ‘strangers.’”
1. When most people I know (actually, everyone I know) shifted from the pastoral ministry, they did not leave the local church. They remained very active in local church ministry, just not as a pastor. That has been true in my own case. Fifteen years ago I sensed God’s call to move from pastoral ministry to seminary ministry. My family and I have always remained active in our local church in numerous ministries. So it remains a both/and: outside ministry and local church ministry, rather than being an either/or.
2. I do not enjoy the speaking circuit. I “add” it to my ministry involvement because I sense a call from God to take what I’ve learned as a pastor and seminary professor and share it with those who otherwise might not have the benefit of the “content” that I share. In other words, for me, I go “kicking and screaming” into the speaking circuit.
3. I do not enjoy being away from home, being in a hotel (nice or otherwise—and I’ve experienced each!), eating in restaurants. For me, there is no glamor in that, no “siren call.” Give me my wife, my home, my neighborhood, my familiar settings, a home-cooked meal (whether cooked by me or by Shirley or both) any day.
4. I don’t find the speaking circuit to be a life of ease. I do not like airports. I don’t like traveling (other than on vacation with my family). I don’t like wondering if the PowerPoint is going to work or any of the other million details that have to be worked out in an unfamiliar setting. Local church ministry and seminary ministry are certainly not “easy.” They involve doing real life with real people who really know you and who you really know well—not easy, but wonderful.
5. I much prefer speaking to a congregation of friends (or a seminary classroom of students I know) than I do speaking to an “audience of strangers.” Frankly, I’m always a tad “on edge” and “nervous” before speaking on the speaking circuit. Not so in the church or seminary. There I am 100% at east and comfortable. I am among friends. More importantly, I know them, they know me, and the art of communicating truth and applying it to life is ten times easier because of our ongoing relationship. Speaking to “strangers,” on the other hand, makes ministry, for me, ten times more difficult. I find it much more difficult to apply truth to life when I don’t know the daily lives of the people to whom I am called to speak. I thrive on speaking to friends—congregation members and students I know well personally and who know me well personally. They know whether I’m making stuff up or really living it out by Christ’s grace. We connect. We laugh. We cry. We relate truth to life because we know each other’s lives.
6. I don’t like the “one shot” aspect of the speaking circuit. Given the nature of the time you have, you typically have a “packaged message” and you have a very limited amount of time to communicate your “content.” But in church and seminary ministry, you follow up week after week. And, each lesson, especially in a classroom, or Sunday school class, or small group, you get to interact back and forth. It is not a monologue, but a dialogue. I love that. I love the relaxed nature of ongoing teaching with friends. I do not enjoy the forced nature of one shot teaching with strangers.
7. Let’s be honest, we all appreciate being appreciated. However, I’d take the quiet ongoing “appreciation” of a congregation or of a classroom of students over the applause of an audience of strangers. I remember the first time I spoke at our church after we moved to Indiana. I had never made a big deal (or any deal) about having been a pastor or seminary professor. When I was done speaking, a member of our congregation said, “Bob, you’re good at this. Have you ever thought about speaking more often?” I got a kick out of that. Frankly, I like being “just one of the gang.” I don’t need or desire the applause of being “the special speaker.” It just doesn’t do much for me.
There’s much more I could say, but suffice it to say that the only reason I ever “go on the speaking circuit” is because I sense a call from God to do it. I much prefer local church ministry and seminary ministry. The speaking circuit, at least for me, is not enticing or glamorous. Ministering on an ongoing basis with and to friends in the church and seminary, while not “easy” and not “glamorous” is a wonderful, amazing calling.
Join the Conversation
If you were to go on the “speaking circuit,” what would motivate you? Which do you prefer, the speaking circuit or “local” ministry? Why?