Yesterday, I stood in front of the congregation that I dearly love and read the following letter. It was horrible, tough and extremely emotional. My hands were shaking holding the letter and I never get nervous speaking in front of groups. Here’s the letter and why I had to resign from a church I love.
Resignation letter for Greg Atkinson:
Hello Carthage family. It’s bittersweet to see you all again. On one hand, I am thrilled to worship with you today. On the other hand, I have some hard news to share with you.
I regret to say that I will not be able to continue on as your Campus Pastor. I have a mood disorder (which I’ve been very open about and blogged about and posted on Facebook) which is controlled by medicine and allows me to function normally and at a high level. I say this to reinforce what I’ve always said, God uses weak, messed up people.
As things would have it, the church’s insurance company just recently found out about my mood disorder and classifies me as a liability. Pastor John and Forest Park were put in a very difficult situation by the insurance company of losing their liability insurance as a church (which would open them up to law suits for all their staff and pastors) or releasing me.
I am stepping down as Campus Pastor so that the church doesn’t lose its liability insurance. As a leader, I learned a long time ago that you make the right call for the many, even if the few don’t like it. In this case, my family and I are the few and the right call is to protect the entire Forest Park Church.
Please know I would have stayed here a decade or longer. I love you. I don’t want to leave and this breaks my heart. I love Carthage and we plan on living here unless God calls us somewhere else. I hope I will run into you in town or see you at a restaurant or stay in touch via Facebook. I just can no longer be your pastor.
I wouldn’t trade these last nearly 3 years for anything in the world. This was where God wanted my family and we have been amazed and blessed to see God move in this church. Over three hundred new people have joined this campus since I started and out of that, I’ve baptized well over a hundred of you. I have nothing but sweet and special memories of Forest Park Carthage and I thank you for the privilege of serving you these last few years.
I’m leaving you with the strongest pastoral team we’ve ever assembled at this campus. You’re in good hands. Again, this is an amazing church (I know because I’ve been visiting other churches in the area the last month and none compare to here) – this is an amazing church with strong leaders and tremendous leadership from Pastor John. I have no doubt your best days are ahead of you. God has just begun what He wants to do at this campus.
Please pray for myself and my family as we transition and look for another ministry to serve. Again, we’ll live here in Carthage unless God calls me away somewhere else and opens a huge door of opportunity which I’m confident He will do. Know I will miss you and I love you. God bless you all.
*** That’s the letter. I’m now praying for God to open a huge door of opportunity for my family and me, where I can serve the Church and the Kingdom and not be considered a liability. Please pray for us as I search for what God has next for us.
I’m also thankful for my friends Rhett Smith, DJ Chaung and others like Ed Stetzer and Rick Warren (read THIS) who have been speaking out about mental illness and disorders. I know that my mood disorder is completely controlled and neutralized by medicine (which I take every day) and that I can lead, serve and pastor at a high level. Maybe the Church can move forward with me sharing my story.
My counselor told me that 30% of Americans have some sort of mental illness or disorder and out of that, only 5% are diagnosed. As people came down front yesterday at both services and cried and hugged me, you would not believe how many people in my congregation told me they take medicine for some sort of mental disorder (depression, anxiety, etc.). They wanted me to know they loved me and they understood that sometimes you need to take medicine.
I once served with a pastor that struggled with depression and was very open about it from the pulpit and shared about his struggles and his need for medicine. My mom told me yesterday that she knows of a loved and respected pastor in their association that suffers from a mood disorder and he leads a growing and healthy church.
I say this to speak hope to myself and others. There’s somewhere I can serve and be used effectively by God (this wasn’t an issue at my last church – Bent Tree in Dallas, TX) and I’m prayerfully seeking the right fit and opportunity to be used by God. Please pray with me.
I’ve never hidden my thorn in the flesh, nor lied about it. In fact, I’ve blogged openly about it in the past and posted my blog on Facebook for my church to read. For many years, I’ve told my church and people in classes that I teach at conferences that “God uses weak, messed up people.” – It’s one of the things I talk about in my book Church Leadership Essentials.
Please know (as I mention in the above book) I never burn bridges. I left with dignity, honor, character, and integrity. I took the high road and said nothing but nice and positive things about my church and its senior leadership (which I used to be a part of). I will not blast or say anything negative about anyone. I’m simply sharing my story because I don’t think I’m the only pastor that struggles with anxiety or a mood disorder.
God is faithful and God is our provision. I’m passionately in love with my Savior and cherish His word more and more every day. I always say that my favorite line of a song is from Your Grace Is Enough – in the second verse it goes: “You use the weak to lead the strong…” That’s the story of my life and I’m sticking to it.