top of page
  • Writer's pictureJonathan.Crabtree

A pastor without a parish, but not a pastor without people.

To be honest, I miss all of the ‘pastor’ stuff, like preaching, teaching, administering the sacraments. I miss the people, even though people can be challenging (myself included). I miss the Sunday morning vibe and the thrill of seeing people gather, laugh, worship. I miss it all. But now, I am a pastor without a ‘parish.’ Though I am a pastor without an appointed parish to serve, I’m not a pastor without a people. Wherever I am, wherever I go, the local

people become my people.

We don’t often use that language of “parish” in my denomination (The UMC). The “parish” is technically a defined geographical area in which a priest, pastor, or vicar serves. Assuming the “parish” isn’t on the moon, there are usually people within any given parish. While I’m without an appointment to serve as a pastor, my calling is and forever will be to serve as one. I’m grateful for a Bishop, cabinet, and Board of Ordained Ministry who granted me this opportunity of moving to England to study more in depth, for I believe they understand and respect my discernment. While I miss pastoring an appointed parish, I’m learning a lot during this momentarily leave of absence (Family Leave) that I’d like to share with you.

The call to pastor is stronger than ever, and it took me being out of the building and the parish to realize it.

Since I was a young boy, I knew I wanted to be a pastor, and there has never been a time in my life when I didn’t know it.There may have been times I ignored it! And now, after months,the passion to serve as a pastor still rings even more authentically true and louder than ever. I simply can’t dismissmy foundational calling as a pastor.

A Bishop appoints pastors to serve a “parish,” and my ordinationvows of as an Elder call me: to the preaching/teaching of the Word, administration of the Sacrament[s], to Ordering the life of the church, and empower and sending the church on/in Mission. Probably 99% of the time, Elders are appointed to serve established congregations, or a “parish.” Within an established congregation there is a wonderful group of people who love Jesus and one another. But, an established congregation can also love Jesus and one another and forget they are more than the building they see.

When funds are depleted, attendance is down, a congregation can get too focused on “itself” that the congregation forgets there are plenty of people outside the building who have no idea of Jesus. If you took a building away from a local congregation, do you think they would know what to do according to Scripture? Do you think they would see it as the greatest blessing ever? What about when you take a pastor out of a parish? Will he or she be lost, or will they see the people outside the walls of the building?

I think both the pastor and their congregation need to get out of their building a lot more. Go further than your parking lot, too. Go more than once a year. The natural flow of a congregation is “worship then mission.” Repeat. Getting out of the building and being with the people may just be an uncomfortable recipe for the pastor and congregation to feel and hear their calling to serve just as strong as the day the congregation began. Try it. Or, don’t and stay stuck.

Pastoring pastors is something I’ve discovered. And I love it.

Without an appointed people to serve, I’ve prayed for the Lord to intentionally place someone in my life who needed a pastor. Specifically, I asked for someone serving in ministry as a pastor or in ministry leadership. The Lord heard and delivered.

Though these pastors did not come to me and say, “I need a pastor,” I do believe our conversations have created space for me to engage their current barriers and challenges in ministry and in life. I’ve felt their pains, struggles, and challenges, and I want to encourage them. In fact, I want to coach them and other pastors as well, and I’ll earn credentials as a life coach with a niche here in a few short weeks. If you’re a pastor, and you feel stuck. Contact me. I want to pastor you. More importantly, I want to coach you. Let me. I love it. (Sidebar: I’ll be an official licensed/accredited life coach with a specialty in coaching pastors by the end of this calendar year)

I wonder how many pastors right now need their church to “pastor” them? Like intentionally call them and pray for them. According to Christianity Today and Barna, 38% of protestant pastors are considering leaving their ministries, which seems to be up from 29% just this January.

Church, check on your pastor. They are not ok. Don’t assume they are, and don’t believe for one second they are even after they tell you. If one person would offer to pray for their pastor in person at least once a week, I guarantee you it would change their life. Then, make sure they’re achieving all they want and need in ministry. Send them to me, and I’ll coach them.

I wonder how many people outside of the building are feeling the same way?

Pastoring people without a parish is what I’m called to do, not because I’m a pastor, but because I’m a follower of Jesus.

Early on, Kristina and I felt called to England. Primarily I felt called to research a PhD, but as a family we knew God had much more in store for us here. We wanted to test some more of our theory revolving around church planting upon the wake of an ever-shifting global culture. So, that means I still follow my calling as a follower of Jesus Christ by reaching those not engaged, interested, or connected with Christianity whileemploying the Spirit’s giftings and callings as a pastor. (No, I’m not planting a church) I’m living into the expectation of ALL followers of Jesus Christ by making disciples. To make a disciple you have to be one. To make someone a disciple of Jesus you have to reach someone not a believer or follower of Jesus Christ, and help them to do the same. Then repeat it. And again. And again.

I just happen to have pastoral experience, training, and theological education. What will I do with these gifts? I’ll continue to do the same thing I was doing while serving under an appointment: use these gifts for God’s Kingdom to transform the world.

Being a pastor without a parish is nothing new for some, while it may be somewhat odd to even read it. For the Methodist movement founder, John Wesley, wrote in a letter, “I look upon all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty, to declare unto all that are willing to hear glad tidings of salvation.” [W. Reginald & Richard P. Heitzenrater, eds., The Works of John Wesley, Vol 19: Journals & Diaries II, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990), 67.]

Dr. Joseph Butler, Bishop of Bristol, had asked John Wesley to leave Bristol at least three times, to which Wesley replied with this statement about the world being his parish. Wesley was claiming his principles in order to justify why and how that he could rightly “assemble Christians who are none of my charge to sing psalms and pray and hear the Scriptures expounded.” Then, beginning with his principles he told the Bishop, “I allow no other rule whether of faith or practice, than the Holy Scriptures.” [Kenneth Morgan, John Wesley in Bristol, [Bristol: Bristol Branch of The Historical Association, 1990), 12.]

For Wesley to say something like was pretty bold of him. To keep preaching outdoors and to people the Church seemed to care less about was also pretty significant. I think he realized that the limited boundaries within the current parish context of the 18th Century and Wesley wanted the people of the world to know the same love of Jesus he had experienced just a year earlier.

He, too, was a pastor without a parish, but not without a people. Wesley really shaped a vision for the People called Methodists to perceive the entire world filled with people as a “parish,” and he did so in Bristol. He developed the Class Meeting in Bristol, which is the equivalent of a missional small group of the larger congregation. He preached in the open-air for the first time in Bristol. He built the New Room Methodist building, and now the oldest Methodist building/center in the world. It’s still here.

Finally, when the Church of England wouldn’t support the “pastor without a parish” who had revived the Church, Wesleyordained Richard Whatcoat and Thomas Vasey as deacons with Anglican priests, Thomas Coke and James Creighton helping – right here in Bristol. The next day he ordained Thomas Coke to the superintendency of American Methodist churches, and then Coke ordained Francis Asbury to be joint superintendent in America. [Lorna Khoo, Wesleyan Eucharistic Spirituality, (Adelaide: ATF Press, 2005), 26.]

Here I am in Bristol, a pastor without a parish, but not without a people. Who knows what the Lord will lead me to do. Whether or not I’m appointed to serve somewhere, I heed the command of Christ to “make disciples of all nations” not because I’m a pastor, but because I’m His follower.

To the pastor: Get out of your office today and find people. Don’t find them and try to take them back to your parish. Rather, be with them.

To the Church: Get out of your building. You only really need it for worship. That’s it. You can lead a bible study at your home, in a coffee shop, at a restaurant. Save money on electricity. Support your pastor and go where they go. BE WITH THE PEOPLE.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to pastor a people without a parish. Join me?

114 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page