Mark Rutland had worn multiple hats in church life, from pastoring a United Methodist church to evangelism to foreign missions. Yet, when he reached his early 50s, he and his wife, Alison, sensed a looming career shift.
Still, they never expected it would come in the form of an invitation to lead the then-troubled Southeastern College. He never applied, just responded to an invitation from the board of directors. They weren't interviewing others; the job was his for the taking.
"That appealed—the sense of being needed, or wanted, to step in and take on that kind of challenge," says Rutland, who six years later led the Assemblies of God school's transition into Southeastern University.
"I had lectured here and there, but never had been on the faculty of a university except adjunct lecturing in a couple of classes," he says. "It just felt like a new direction and a fresh way to start trying to apply the gifts and direction I felt from the Lord."
To say he succeeded would be an understatement. The trustees of Oral Roberts University (ORU) were so impressed with Rutland's accomplishments in Lakeland, Florida, that in 2009 they offered him ORU's presidency.
Taking over after a financial scandal left the Tulsa school rudderless, Rutland only stayed four years. His tenure included giving a two-year notice to allow adequate time for a replacement search. Today he has returned to Global Servants, the missions organization he founded in 1977.
In addition, Rutland mentors pastors and business people through the National Institute of Christian Leadership (NICL), which meets throughout the year at three different sites to provide practical instruction in everyday workplace issues.
Regardless of the venue, Rutland never felt like he departed from ministry, but just changed roles while garnering considerable insights. He especially gained an appreciation for his expanded influence while speaking to college and university students.
"When I was preaching in chapels, I became aware, almost at a painful level, that I was not just preaching to those college kids," he recalls. "I was preaching to all the people they would marry, all the children they would raise, all the businesses they would run, all the churches they would pastor and all the districts they would represent in Congress—all the extended impact of their lives."
A Broader Reach
Pastors who leave the pulpit for greater influence in God's kingdom are true legacy leaders. Like Rutland, some continue to reach the church through those they teach.
Others, like John C. Maxwell, keep their hand in the church through part-time pastoral roles or continue to serve as interim pastors, even though their new position represents their primary source of income.
A best-selling author, Maxwell is respected for his work in leadership in secular and Christian arenas. Yet he had sensed God's call to train and develop leaders five years before accepting the pastorate of Skyline Church in San Diego.
Maxwell discussed this desire with the Skyline board, whose members agreed to allow him to pursue his call as senior pastor. He says a "great team" carried the load, particularly his last few years at the church.
"As I look back now, I see that I wasn't doing either at the highest possible level of excellence, so I finally let go of Skyline," Maxwell says. "I loved the people there, but it was God's church, not mine. It was time for someone else to lead there while I found out what God had for me in the development of leaders."
What the Lord had in mind for him included a greater entrée into the marketplace. In the past 20 years, Maxwell's organizations (INJOY and now EQUIP) have trained more than 5 million leaders in nearly 200 nations.
He also discovered that few people in the marketplace even think about the church. And that you can't start a conversation with criticism; it takes credibility to do so. Business people won't even listen to you unless you first demonstrate your competence. Establish that and they are open to a conversation.
"I led more people to Christ outside the church in the first five years than I had in my previous 10," says Maxwell, who now speaks several times a year at South Florida's Christ Fellowship. "And in the 20 years I've been in the business community, I've led more people to Christ than I did in 26 years in the pulpit.
"I was surprised by that. I shouldn't have been. After all, Jesus went out to the people who needed Him to share the gospel with them. I believe in the power of influence (and) opportunities."
So does Wes Cantrell, a new state legislator in Georgia. Although continuing to serve as young adult pastor at First Baptist Church (FBC) of Woodstock since his election to the state's House of Representatives, Cantrell has seen his speaking invitations mushroom.
A Georgia native whose first job was in youth ministry at a Southern Baptist congregation in Mississippi, Cantrell had already ventured outside the pulpit.
In addition to maintaining an ongoing campus presence as director of First Priority, which helps establish student-led Bible clubs, he was one of the founders of The King's Academy.
A hybrid between homeschooling and two-days-a-week classes, in the past 17 years King's has expanded its building space and enrollment, which is now at more than 900. He still serves as chairman of the board.
Yet Cantrell never expected to run for elected office. But last year a legislator elected to fill an expired term took some stands that didn't sit well with Cantrell or many of his future constituents.
Soon a close friend asked, "Would you consider running against him?" Cantrell sidestepped the offer by trying to recruit two other men, but both declined.
Nervous about potential church-state conflicts, he decided to meet with his pastor. Johnny Hunt offered his unconditional support.
"At 52, I felt like God was asking me to do something I didn't want to do," says Cantrell, whose district covers a region northwest of Atlanta. "It was the perfect storm. I can't imagine any other circumstances in which I would have agreed to run for office."
Although FBC Woodstock is one of the area's larger megachurches, the associate pastor quickly discovered what widespread visibility meant. His speaking invitations quadrupled, taking him to places like an addiction recovery center, a foster-care program graduation and a child advocacy center.
The latter serves as a temporary way station for children who are believed to be victims of physical or sexual abuse. During his next term in 2016, Cantrell is sponsoring legislation to guarantee the confidentiality of children who testify against parents, relatives or others in such cases.
The need was highlighted through the highly publicized case of the Duggar family of reality TV fame, where supposedly confidential information burst into national headlines.
"The Friday after that story broke, I had a meeting already set up with the advocacy center," Cantrell says. "I said, 'This will help us with legislation. People will understand that it's important to protect that information without fear it will surface 10 years later.'"
A New Call
Sometimes the call to leave the safety of the church comes in unexpected ways.
Charles Gaulden was senior pastor of a 2,000-member megachurch in South Carolina when Rutland invited him to teach annually in Southeastern's graduate program in leadership.
In 2002, Gaulden started making an annual trip south to lead a one-week class on campus. Five years later, he joined the faculty full time as a professor of Christian ministries and religion.
"It was gradual, but it grew," says the former pastor of Evangel Cathedral in Spartanburg. "I never had a lightning flash, but every few months I knew that this is what I should be doing.
"When I got to Southeastern (at age 18), the Lord impressed on my heart that I would become a pastor and do that for many years, but one day I would teach at a Christian college. I had no idea it would be at Southeastern."
The professor has maintained a pulpit presence, twice serving as an interim pastor while at Southeastern. Yet, whether preaching in a church or not, Gaulden feels his influence has multiplied 10 times over through shepherding shepherds.
In addition to classroom instruction, Gaulden has filmed a series of 10 video courses for the Christian Life School of Theology. The sessions have been translated into languages such as Japanese, Chinese, Russian and Spanish.
"I think the biggest thing is to get to travel to churches and train leaders," Gaulden says of the impact he makes outside a traditional pastoral role. "I'm able to say things to that church and its leaders that fit in with what the pastor is trying to do."
A heart for pastors still drives Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, the multifaceted publishing house employs more than 5,100 people and releases thousands of books and curriculum resources annually.
The former pastor of five churches and one-time dean of the missions school at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Rainer led a church consulting business until he divested outside holdings when he assumed LifeWay's leadership.
However, he still communicates with pastors via blog posts (thomrainer.com), a podcast that started in 2013 and social media. These avenues touch about two-thirds of the 350,000 Protestant church leaders across the U.S.
"I have to be clear though," Rainer says. "That's not my individual influence as much as it is leading an organization of individuals who have that influence.
"Still, I would say my leading contribution (since leaving the pulpit) has been providing truth about where churches are and the opportunities of where churches can go. I think I have been able to provide a dose of reality—and, hopefully, a double dose of hope for church leaders."
A Fresh Opportunity
Any pastor dealing with financial struggles, a contentious congregation or another in the myriad of 21st-century challenges may be tempted to leave the pulpit behind in hopes of multiplying his influence elsewhere.
Rainer cautions anyone considering such a step to devote considerable time to prayer and consulting trusted advisers. Through the years he has seen many leave the pulpit and, after the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, admit that they made an ill-advised move.
"Don't leave for a negative reason," Rainer says. "There are church leaders who are leaving the pastorate and all the challenges that it has instead of sensing why they are going into something else.
"Besides, I don't think the pastorate has any less influence than something else. I am still not convinced that a local church pastor has any less influence than I do at LifeWay or than I did at Southern Seminary."
Maxwell says any pastor considering leaving the pulpit needs to first ask the question, "Why do I want to move?" Is it a desperate attempt to get away from something or taking advantage of a new opportunity?
Emphasizing that it isn't right to "bail out," Maxwell says any pastor should leave on a high note and only after examining his or her motives.
"Do you want more influence because it feeds your ego?" Maxwell asks. "Does it raise your profile? Does it give you more money or perks? I think it's important to look deep inside and make sure you're doing the right things for the right reasons."
Rutland says a pastor who leaves the pulpit for another job isn't leaving ministry anymore than a doctor who leaves private practice to become the head of surgery at a hospital is leaving the medical field.
That said, he outlines two other primary questions:
1) What are the trade-offs?
Rutland doesn't believe seeking a broader platform or greater visibility is reason to make a move. However, if the pastor is seeking to multiply his impact, that can be positive.
"At 65, I was at a place where I wanted to train leaders at the midpoint of their career," Rutland says of leaving ORU and establishing NICL. "My impact on them could cause an impact on others."
2) Are you ready?
Taking this kind of step is risky, meaning you should only make it after drawing up careful plans.
Rutland points out that he didn't leave Southeastern because he was unhappy. Indeed, with his family living in their "dream house" and having their five grandchildren within a 3-mile radius made him content to stay in place. Yet when ORU called, he sensed his time in Lakeland had ended.
"I could have gone on doing it, and I don't think God would have been mad at me," Rutland says. "I could have stayed there until the day I retired. But I feel you come to a point where you say, 'This is done. It's time for me to move to the next thing.'"
Ken Walker is a freelance writer and book editor based in Huntington, West Virginia. He has written for many years about pastors and Christian businessmen.
Fox News reporter aims to be faithful
As a reporter, anchor and one-time host of Fox & Friends Weekend, Kelly Wright is a familiar face to millions of TV viewers. Yet, for years he has worn a second hat as an evangelist, worship leader and frequent pulpit speaker.
After informal evangelistic appearances and on-air witnessing as a reporter for The 700 Club in the 1980s, Wright was ordained in 1993 by the nondenominational Open Door Chapel in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
"My calling is actually what I do," says Wright, who served as an associate pastor and worship leader at Open Door. "I'm trying to be faithful to my duties every day.
"When life gets in the way, hopefully I'm there with the right words from God from my heart to inspire people and help them get through their difficult days."
A veteran of 12 years with Fox News Channel, Wright has reported on key developments in places such as Iraq, Africa and Paris; covered presidential races; and interviewed public figures, including former First Lady Laura Bush.
He has also reported on pastors such as Bishop T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen and Rick Warren. Wright says while such high-profile leaders attract controversy, they make a tremendous impact through the media on people's lives and in ways that many will never see.
"A lot of times we have to make an impact by being an example right where we are planted," says the Oral Roberts University graduate. "It doesn't matter if you are a reporter, a preacher, a teacher or a fisherman. Occupy that occupation by letting Christ show up in your life."
Ironically, despite his visible position, Wright is open to changing to a pastoral role if that is what God wants. For pastors contemplating going the opposite direction and leaving the pulpit, he suggests praying and making sure that God—and only God—is calling them to take that step.
For the pastor thinking about departing his current role, Wright advises seeing whether he can handle a new role while also maintaining a pulpit. Wright uses the example of the late Adrian Rogers as someone who relied on staff for counseling, administration and other issues to leave him free to teach others beyond his congregation.
"My advice to a pastor is to do this wisely and be sure that's a call for you to step out into the unknown," Wright says. "Then be ready. If you're going to wake up every day and the devil knows your name, you're going to be attacked."—Ken Walker
Versatile leader Dave Robinson empowers others to 'take influence' into the world
Dave Robinson juggled business duties and the pastorate for years, carrying credentials with the Assemblies of God after attending Central Bible College.
During his summer breaks while in college, Robinson directed home-building and remodeling crews. From 1993 to 1996, he oversaw a major redevelopment project at Canaan Land. Founded by the late Mac Gober, the Alabama-based ministry offers residential drug rehabilitation treatment.
Before and after his work in Alabama, Robinson pastored churches in the Chicago area. For four years during his last pastorate, he helped his son manage a recreational vehicle business.
"I never separated my life between secular and the church," says Robinson, a member of the Full Gospel Fellowship of Churches. "Through the years, I've always felt my greatest influence has been to advance the kingdom in the marketplace."
His sense of a "disconnect" between the church and the business world inspired him to leave the pulpit in 2005. His consultancy, Coaching 4 Ministers, works with pastors and business leaders. The latter represent about 40 percent of his business.
Robinson's passion is to awaken pastors to the reality that they are falling short of adequately training the average person in the pew to carry important Sunday lessons into the marketplace Monday.
"When actor Harrison Ford crashed his plane (last March), the first group on the scene were doctors," he says. "They realized who they were, what they were trained to do and probably saved his life. Isn't that a great example of the church? If we're trained, we'll step in and know what needs to be done."
Robinson thinks that starts with a change of mindset, to help more Christians see themselves as ministers. Too many fail to realize that what goes on during the week is as "spiritual" as church, says Robinson, who addresses the situation in his book, Idle in the Marketplace at the Eleventh Hour.
"It's our job to prepare people to go back into their world and take influence," Robinson says. If we don't turn this around, we're going to go the way of Rome and other (civilizations).
"I believe it will happen with a divine partnership. The 'royal priesthood' (1 Pet. 2:9) is not just referring to church leaders. It's referring to all people."—Ken Walker
Hispanic pastor leaves pulpit, grows reach
A Baptist pastor in New York City, Reverend Luis Cortés had chosen to leave his pulpit by 1981 to teach at Eastern Baptist (now Palmer) Theological Seminary, but he has continued to cultivate his relationships with pastors.
Cortés started meeting regularly with about 20 pastors working in North Philadelphia's Hispanic community to discuss the problems they faced in hopes of securing field placements for students at his seminary. That ministers' association would pave the way for the 1987 founding of Esperanza, an influential nonprofit community development corporation that maintains ties with 13,000 churches. Esperanza now has 340 employees working at its $60 million Philadelphia campus.
Esperanza's National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and Conference draws 700 faith and community leaders to Washington, D.C., annually. The organization also is one of only two Hispanic intermediaries with U.S. Housing and Urban Development.
Esperanza carries out such tasks as financial counseling, youth mentoring and sponsoring sports leagues either directly or through its affiliates. It has awarded $13 million in grants to more than 500 Hispanic faith-based organizations.
A key element in the organization's success was the provision in its founding documents that he could not oversee Esperanza and pastor a church.
"That was the wisest thing we did because it created a noncompetitive environment," he says. "I wasn't wrestling against them, and they could support me. If someone is doing this kind of work and wants to be successful with a group larger than your neighborhood, it is hard for other (pastors) to support you if you're pastoring. This took all those pressures away."—Ken Walker
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National Institute of Christian Leadership (NICL)
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