As we get nearer the publication date of The Runaway Pastor, I continue to receive many questions about the book and it's topic. I'm excited about the interest, and grateful for the curiosity. Almost every day a new reader writes to me and expresses excitement about the book.
There are two primary issues that are faced in this book, and they both regard vows taken by Trent Atkins: Vows to marriage and vows to ministry. Will Trent and Natalie's marriage be saved? Will Trent's ministry be restored? In The Runaway Pastor, we see him run from these vows, then make choices regarding both of them. These are the issues I hope readers will deal with. My publisher plans an online study guide to lead reader groups through them. Both issues matter in our times.
Many still ask how much of The Runaway Pastor is autobiographical. My best answer is: None, and much of it. None, because I am not Trent Atkins. I've never run across the country or hidden from my wife or a congregation I pastored. Natalie Atkins is not my wife. My wife and I are still happily tucked into our early 1800's log cabin in the hills of Brown County, Indiana.
Much of this book is written however, because I have felt many of the things that Trent experienced before his run. I would definitely say I am not cut out for modern ministry. I love to shepherd, teach and care for a community. But I am not a CEO, CFO or savvy administrator. I have much passion for connecting unconnected people to Jesus; but I have zero passion to grow a mega-church.
And, I have met many Trents. Throughout my ministry other pastors have shared with me their thoughts of quitting, and I remember one particular conversation with a church leader who spoke to me of his earlier years when he would dream of "getting into my car and driving as far as [my] savings would allow." According to several authorities, hundreds (many cite about 1,500) pastors in North America leave the ministry (before retirement) for the last time each month.
That is my best shot at an answer to the questions about autobiography. It will be interesting to see how people respond to the completion of The Runaway Pastor. I have people cheering for a yes on one of the vows and a no on another. Others wanting both outcomes to be yes, and others wanting Trent to just stay tucked away in Southern California, working with his crew and settling with Kim.