“My Return to the Ministry” by Rev. Robert “Dub” Chambers
God called me to preach His Word when I was 17 years old. At 21 I pastored my first church, and for the next 35 years, enjoyed leading many others. Then I went through a divorce.
My denomination taught—and I believed—that a divorced person couldn’t be a minister. His privilege to preach the gospel and pastor a church was over, period. I could cite several scriptures supporting that belief. As stated by a popular illustration making the rounds in those days, “If an airline pilot loses his eyesight, he can no longer pilot a plane.” Now divorced, I knew my work as a minister was over. I would never preach again. To make a living, I became a certified financial planner, enjoying a measure of success, and then transitioning into managing investments and selling stocks.
Divorce is very, very painful, regardless of the circumstances. Increasing my pain was the loss of my fellow coffee-drinking, a Baptist preacher-friends. They began avoiding me. When I would visit their churches to worship the Lord, they wouldn’t look at me or speak to me, much less shake my hand. I’d call them on the phone, and they were always too busy to talk—you’d think I had leprosy. Besides failing at my marriage, losing both my career and the respect of my children, I also lost most of my friends.
While my children and fellow Baptist brothers wrote me off, God didn’t. Instead, he kept showing that he loved and cared about me. Broken by failure and the rejection of my family and friends, I clung to those reassurances.
Before the divorce, I focused on implementing all the principles I learned on how to grow a church. I studied hard, spent many hours on each sermon (three a week), visited church members almost nightly, and organized and reorganized the church structure, trying to get it right. My wife said many times, “You’re more married to the church than you are to me.” She wasn’t one to hide her resentment. “I hate the church, and I hate being a pastor’s wife!” In addition, more than once she told me, “If you weren’t a pastor, I would already have divorced you.” The tensions between us kept escalating.
Even though I was truly saved, and regarded as a successful pastor by my peers, the inner discontent with my marriage caused me to pour myself into my work. This, of course, only made things worse.
I tried everything to make things better—reading books on marriage and attempting to apply what I learned. I suggested to my wife that we go for counseling. Her response? “You go, you need it; I don’t.”
I often took long late-night prayer walks. As I talked to God about my marriage, all He would say was for me to be patient. After a couple of years, my life now unbearable and my patience exhausted, I quit the ministry and divorced my wife. The resulting guilt, the rejection from both my children and my many pastor friends, catapulted me into a deepening depression. God, however, kept showing up.
A salesperson has to connect with people. Depressed people, however, don’t care if they connect, so even though I was a stockbroker, I lost my drive to contact people. I soon ran out of money. I didn’t even have enough to buy groceries or pay the rent, which was now several months in arrears. About all I did was lie in bed grieving, weeping, and feeling forsaken by God, friends, and family. One day, I opened my Bible and my eyes fell on Psalms 42:9 “I say to God, my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?’” I could have written those words myself. My depression only deepened. I was in the pits—the lowest point in my life. Then, the phone rang.
As a broker, I received many calls, but I’ll never forget this one. I had contacted this man several months earlier. He said he’d think about my investment recommendations, but I never expected to hear from him. “I’ve been thinking about your suggestions,” he said, “I’d like to go with them.” My commission on his investment was $5,000. I missed a few more meals until the check arrived, but then it did, I went out to eat, got caught up on my rent, and even paid three months in advance. With the remaining funds, I set up an office on the fourth floor of a downtown office building. My financial problems disappeared, my depression lifted, and it was all from God.
Since my Baptist brothers avoided me, I soon found a large church in a different denomination. They welcomed me warmly, even allowing me to be an assistant 4th-grade teacher, responsible for helping to keep order in the classroom. Occasionally, the children’s department director would ask me to bring a brief devotional at their opening gatherings.
One day, my son Joe sent me a tape of Steve Hoekstra’s preaching in the church Joe was pastoring. Steve spoke of my influence on his life while attending a church I once led. I called Steve just to visit with him. He asked me if I was ready to pastor again. I said, “You know I’m divorced, and churches don’t want a divorced person as a pastor.” Steve replied, “The church I have in mind is at Copper Mountain Ski Resort. It’s very small, and they’ve had a hard time getting and keeping a pastor. They can’t pay very much, so you’d have to be bi-vocational.” In other words, they were so desperate that my divorce wouldn’t be a problem. He continued, “Since the church is at a ski resort, you’d be skiing all over the mountain doing services at different locations. Pray about it, and if God leads you to it, send me your resume. Will you pray about it?” “Yes,” I replied.
Hanging up the phone I said to God, “If you want me back in the ministry, I need three things to happen: First, I need a Godly person to tell me outright that I need to return to the ministry. Second, I need someone to quote a passage of scripture that points me back to the ministry. Third, I need an unrelated and nonreligious incident that says you want me to return.” I didn’t recall it at the time, but I was copying Gideon in the Old Testament, who discerned God’s leading by putting out fleeces (Judges 6:36-40).
Several weeks later, I was talking to the children’s department director, whom I highly respected., “I’ve been asked to send my resume to a small church,” I said.
“Send it,” the director said, “You have too much to offer not to be in the ministry.”
“But the scripture says pastors are not to be divorced,” I replied.
Immediately the director quoted Romans 11:29, “. . . for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.”
As we parted, my heart cried out, “that’s two of my requests!” Yes, I know that verse was addressing Israel’s mission and not my calling as a pastor, but the way the director used it met two of my requests to God: a godly person to tell me to return to the ministry, and a relevant scripture verse.
After church that day, I had lunch with some friends and told them what had happened. One of them said, “You said the church is at Copper Mountain? What about that tee-shirt—the one your sister sent you a while back?” (My sister claimed to be an atheist at the time.) I couldn’t remember what was on the tee-shirt, so we dug out it of the drawer. On the front was the picture of a gigantic mountain, above it the words “Copper Mountain Resort”, and underneath, “The Mountain You Can Call Home”. “God,” I thought, “you just answered my third request!”
Driving back from a ski trip with some friends the next week, I told God that I couldn’t go to Copper Mountain because I had a $20,000 business debt hanging over my head. That small church couldn’t pay much, so I had to settle that debt before sending in my resume.
Later that week, a gentleman who had attended a money management workshop I taught a year earlier at the church he attended, called me. He told me he had become unhappy with his current stockbroker and wanted to transfer his business and personal accounts to my brokerage firm. My commission was $23,000, enough to clear the business debt with money left over.
I sent my resume to Steve. Expecting to invite me to lead them, the church asked me to come for a visit. I flew out at my expense, and that Sunday they asked me to become their pastor. But there was a problem. “I need a place to live,” I said, “I’ve checked out the cost of housing, and even a tiny apartment around here runs $1200 a month plus utilities. I’ve got to find something cheaper.” One of the church members, who worked in real estate, went to his office that afternoon, something he rarely did on a Sunday. In walked a young lady who said, “My roommate just moved out. I can’t keep the contract on my house.” She needed someone to immediately assume her $800-a-month lease. There was also a lower level that would rent for about $300. “Do you know of someone looking for a place?” she asked. My phone rang. I took over her contract and a short time later rented out the lower level.
All of these so-called “coincidences” were to me “God-incidences”, reassuring me of his calling to return to the ministry. Jesus issued the same call to one of his own disciples. In Matthew 10:33, he said, “Whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” Then, his disciple Peter did just that. Jesus had even warned him, “I tell you most solemnly, before the cock crows, you will disown me three times,” but to no avail. But Jesus didn’t give up on Peter. In John 21, the resurrected Lord appeared to Peter and asked him three times if he loved him. With every one of Peter’s affirmations, Jesus said, “Feed my sheep,” restoring him as his disciple. Likewise, God showed me three times that He wanted me to feed his sheep and advance his kingdom. When I said “yes” to Copper Mountain, I felt like I had “come home”. As time went on, having experienced God’s grace in such a powerful way, I completely reexamined the Bible’s teaching about grace and scrapped several of my formerly dogmatic theological views. God’s love is greater than our failures.