Why did I leave the ministry?
I told people I left the ministry because I "didn't have the personality for it." I had a hard time whenever someone called me "reverend" (which people inevitably did, even though I never worked in any church in which "reverend" was my official title), and whenever I met someone new the reaction I received was either 1) undue respect, as though I had descended directly from heaven, or 2) unnecessary trepidation, as though I were going to coerce him into attending my church. Concerning the former, I'd hear things like, "You are a special young man, doing the Lord's work." Concerning the latter, conversations would go something like this:
Me: "Hi, I'm Bud."
Other Person: "I'm Methodist."
I told people I quit the ministry because I didn't want to deal with church politics and pointless bickering over such issues as whether we should sing contemporary praise songs or traditional hymns. Good preachers are like good politicians (if there are any), somehow able to satisfy one's constituency and still be effective, genuine and honest. I don't make a good politician, and thus I'm no longer doing ministry. I told people I gave up ministry because I felt my talents would be better suited in a different occupation. While each of these reasons is true, there's really only one reason I am no longer a minister: I walked away from ministry after eight years of serving in the church because I had doubts about the message I had been preaching.
I could have (and would have) dealt with both the good and the bad of ministry if I were still convinced that my mission was noble and my message true. Had I remained confident that my work had eternal significance, I would have accepted both the bane and the boon of being a preacher. If I still believed that I had a special calling from god to do "the Lord's work," I'd still be doing the Lord's work.
I miss that sense of ultimate, cosmic purpose that religion provides. Ministry attracted me when I was younger because I saw it as the most significant job a person could have. My work had eternal implications. Honestly, of all conceivable purposes one could have in life, what is more significant than saving a person's eternal soul? Doctors can fix the body, which will one day die anyway. Preachers work on the soul, which goes on forever.
Perhaps that sense of eternal purpose and meaning is one reason why stepping away from one's religious beliefs is so difficult. Religions tend to do the same thing infomercials do: set up a (usually devastating) problem, then provide the sure-fire solution. Many religions, like many infomercials, come with this warning: "Accept no substitutes." Only our knives can cut through both a steel pipe and a ripe tomato. Only our god can save you.
I miss the feeling that came with believing that I had the solution to the biggest problems of the world. I miss the satisfaction of believing I had the "right answers" - the truth.
The truth, in fact, is that I don't have the answers. I had bought into everything the infomercial of my religion told me, but when I started asking questions I realized that I had no idea what I was talking about. The truth didn't seem to care whether I felt like I had any cosmic, eternal purpose. What's more, people didn't want to hear me talk like that. So while I gave many reasons for why I left ministry, this one reason - even though it was the most significant - I didn't talk about much.