This last Sunday, September 11, Pastor Pete Wilson of the mega-church Cross Point in Nashville, TN resigned. His reasons were that he was empty and just needed to rest, what the ministry world calls “burnout.”
Talking about the mission and vision of Cross Point, Pete said, “I did not prioritize some other things that were equally as important.”
He continued, “Most of you in this church only experience what I do on Sundays, especially those of you who watch online. You just see me when I kind of come up here on Sundays but the reality is as leader and the pastor of a church, what happens in between those Sundays is just as important and it requires a lot of leadership and it requires a lot of leadership energy. And leaders in any realm of life, leaders who lead on empty don’t lead well and for some time now I’ve been leading on empty. And so I believe that the best thing for me to do is to step aside from Cross Point and so I am officially resigning as the pastor of Cross Point Church.” You can watch his resignation speech below and read more about it here.
Of course, much has been written already about Wilson’s resignation, specifically by those not in the Cross Point fold and looking for opportunity to quickly criticize a mega-church target. So, why add my voice to it all? Because the cacophony of voices seems to have an air of negativity and pity, quickly referencing burnout or suspicion of hidden sins. Social Media is full of commentators expressing their sadness and even surprise. It would be tempting to speculate: Did he have enough support, accountability, spiritual disciplines, secret sins, etc? Others have expressed Pete’s resignation and burnout as just another one to add to the pile of similar stories. I can see them slowly shaking their heads with pressed lips, whispering under their breath, “What a shame. There’s goes another one.” Burnout has almost become this awful disease that strikes the weak and unsuspecting. It has become the leprosy of the pastoral world. It would seem this is the common atmosphere of the discussion about Pete Wilson. Burnout is something that should be addressed. It occurs far too often in and
out of vocational ministry. When it comes to Pete Wilson, however, I would like to offer a different angle.
We should come at this from an angle of hope and thankfulness? Pastor Wilson planted Cross Point 14 years ago. The majority of pastors will never be at a single church for 14 years. Most people don’t hold a normal job for 14 years. What is worse, when pastors do reach that point of burnout, they instead convince themselves that God is calling them to another ministry. So, they hop from one ministry to another every few years never addressing why they can’t settle down or follow through. Pastor Wilson has accomplished so much good as a leader of a great group of people who made an impact in their own community and in the world. Maybe, instead of viewing this with an air of pity as if he face-planted just before the finish line, we should approach this as, “Well, done, good and faithful servant. Enter now into your master’s rest” (Matthew 25:21). Perhaps this isn’t true burnout but rather Wilson realizing it is time to be done; he’s done all he could. Time to give back to God what he has invested.
Also, let us also celebrate that Pastor Pete Wilson fully encompassed all that a leader is when he recognized that it was time for him to stop leading. He also, by stepping down, has led people into being vulnerable and honest about where they are at. He said, “We’ve said that this is a church where it’s OK to not be okay, and I’m not okay. I’m tired. I’m broken, and I just need some rest.” As a pastor in a church that values relationship, community, and vulnerability, I can attest to the fact that this still takes some guts to publicly admit. Anyone who has been in any leadership position understands the pressure to emit a specific type of image of who you are and, especially, what you are not. Unfortunately, the church makes this pressure even worse (I am currently working on another blog post specifically on this and will link it here once it’s done).
He then went on to say, “I love you guys; I love the vision of this church. The vision of this church is not me by the way.” That last part (the vision of the church is not the pastor) rings with truth but is hardly the case for most pastors. There is this underlying assumption among most Christians and ministers that the “Ministry” rises and falls on the direction of a select few who have been specifically called by God, as if ministry was something only vocational ministers shoulder. This not only leads to the passive and spiritually obese church meat popsicle but also lends to a whole swath of unhealthy tendencies and destructive assumptions pastors tend to hold. We KNOW that the church is not “ours” and we know that it shouldn’t solely depend on one fallible person, but we don’t actually believe it. Pete Wilson, however, chose to walk in faith. This is not to say that leadership does not affect the outcome of churches. On the contrary, it immensely does. However, to lead in such a way that you act as if it all depends on you ruins the church.
Pastors have much to learn and much to emulate from Pastor Pete Wilson. It is okay, and even good, to step down and out of the way for others to lead. Even Jesus did it…after only three years. It is okay if you are no longer the best person to lead in your current role. It is okay to not be okay. By the way, this is what our society is craving for: authenticity. People are drawn to its light. We will be better leaders when we can be truly ourselves.
So, I want to thank God for Pete Wilson and celebrate who he is, what he has done, and the legacy he is still leaving behind. Thank you, Pete, for sharing your courage and vulnerability with me, for modeling what a true leader is, and that is okay to not be okay. I look forward to what you do next as you continue on the path God has called you on.
What do think of Pete’s resignation? What are opinions on church leadership, burnout, and vulnerability?