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John Mark Comer

What Happened to John Mark Comer? Sabbatical from Ministry and Elevated Concerns

For a discernment verdict that came out in 2020, it becomes necessary to engage in follow-up of various teachers, especially as there are major developments in their trajectories. Since our initial article, John Mark Comer resigned from his pastoral office at Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon, and has taken an extended sabbatical from ministry altogether. The early concerns surrounding Comer were his ill-thought theology on “lesser gods” and his soft peddling of liberalism and Social Justice in the church. It should be noted that Bridgetown Church has entire pages on its website that peddle “racial injustice” narratives, which came after the verdict was published. The church also takes a soft Side-B approach that calls orthodox believers “pharisees” for adhering to traditional praxis, stating that “Those who felt most accepted in [His] presence were those most obviously living in disagreement with [His] teaching,” which blatantly ignores the transformation of the sinners and tax collectors. This is reminiscent of Andy Stanley touting the superior faith of “gay Christians.”

These concerns are maintained, and new concerns are added to the record.

Interview with Carey Nieuwhof

The focus of this report will be John Mark Comer’s interview with Carey Nieuwhof, who hosts a “leadership podcast” which has also interviewed JD Greear, David Platt, Tim Keller, Bill McKendry (He Gets Us), and Andy and Stacie Wood. These interviews were all from 2023, which means that Nieuwhof has a knack for platforming apostates as examples of leadership.

The interview in question was entitled, “John Mark Comer on Attending Church After Leading One & Stepping Down from Leadership” to discuss Comer’s experience stepping down from his pastoral role and being a church goer in the pews. This debuted on February 27th and currently has 34K views, which is well above average for most of Nieuwhof’s interviews.

Nieuwhof was the founding pastor of Connexus Church in Canada, which is infused with liberalism in its promotion of false teachers like Mike Todd and Andy Stanley. Like Comer, he walked away from ministry to sell “leadership materials” and write books.

Gift of Sabbath

Early in the interview, Comer discusses his sabbatical, which is the second one he has taken. The first being for about three months while the most recent one lasting about five months before he began working for a nonprofit and writing.

It’s an essential discipline for me, and the gift of sabbatical was to be able to have an extended period like that it was as a treasure. Sabbatical is not nearly as fun as I think most people imagine. It’s as much of a hospital visit as it is a vacation, but the gift was getting to have a spiritual life that nobody ever saw. You know, there’s just such a danger in what I do when all of your spiritual life is kind of on display and you know it does, sometimes there’s like an insidious version of that that Matthew 6 kind of doing stuff for the wrong reasons.

Normally when people think of a sabbatical, they might imagine a weekend or a vacation that uses their hard-earned PTO benefits, but Comer is discussing months off at a time. Such protracted hiatuses are not sabbath rests, but indications of underlying problems. It should be noted they did not go into detail surrounding his reasons for leaving the pastorate, though it was not due to disqualifying conduct. Nevertheless, Comer treats the role of pastor as having his “spiritual life” on full display, which is often not the case, as most congregants see the pastor only on Sunday. Though the interview about Comer should expect to discuss himself as the primary subject, Comer comes across as very self-centered, seldom referencing Christ or his study of the Bible during his time off.

Normal people do not take extended, globetrotting vacations because they have lives, responsibilities, and jobs. They cannot afford to quit working and collect book royalties. He briefly mentions how he went on a vacation to Hawaii and a trip to Africa before discussing a “a 21 day guided solitude retreat with the clinical psychologist” all to heal from the “wounds” he accrued during ministry.

It’s a sign that like, something has gone right, like it’s the holy wound. And if, unless I’m reading Paul wrong, Paul very much has a theology of leadership as vicarious suffering, not in the atonement sense… In his case, violence, in his case wounding into your life to allow blessing and life and truth to come through your life to the people that you serve so it’s inevitable that like you just end up pretty beat up after a while. And so finding a space to attend to those wounds and to let them become holy wounds, whether that’s through sabbatical or therapy or some other, you know, medium is absolutely essential. Otherwise, we begin to minister not from those wounds, but from unhealed wounds, which is where so much of the dysfunctional leadership stuff comes from.

His perspective on “holy wounds” requiring time to heal thinly applies the life of the Apostle Paul to his own “suffering” as if they were the same. Paul actually suffered. He was imprisoned, stoned, shipwrecked, and eventually martyred. Did Paul take a sabbatical? Sure, at the Carcere Mamertino, which is an ancient cistern Rome used to store prisoners prior to execution that tradition claims both Paul and Peter were confined.

Comer is not Paul, who suffered in the name of Christ. He probably did not fight lockdowns and placated the Social Justice crowds in 2020. Paul did not take luxury vacations, but forsook the means to afford such amenities. God ordained the Sabbath as a day of rest, so one does not need months off lest they become idle and useless. The Sabbath should be sufficient. The fight goes on.

I’m so grateful that I was given the Christ metaphor, the cross metaphor…and even now, as I’m sure you know, the biblical pattern of death, burial, resurrection. I’m in burial right now. I’m on Holy Saturday. I’m on to, you know, the next thing and the next season of life… And that middle season is both a gift because it’s a form of rest, and it is a dark night because it’s a form of death and burial and waiting.

He employs Christological imagery to describe his rest from ministry, describing himself as in a transition between phases of life. He would later mention his “ministry detox” as being necessary for pastors, but no where in Scripture is this prescribed or demonstrated.

An important aspect of being a pastor is tending to the sheep, the idea that one watches over the congregation, but his unwillingness to remain behind the pulpit or fight onward, instead retreating is disqualifying. There is a reason that when God was winnowing down the Israelites in Judges 7, the cowards were sent home because cowards cannot be trusted to maintain their composure in battle. Whether in war or ministry, cowards cannot be trusted.

Pop Psychology Obsession

Throughout the interview, Comer exhibited an obsession with pop psychology. This would include leadership materials, motivational speakers, his experience with therapy, personality types, and use of secular illustrations. He talks about his “idealistic personality” which he presumes through Meyers Briggs as an INTJ (Architect) and how fond he is of his therapist. Meyers Briggs is pseudoscience, and there is no hard evidence to support its 16 personality types. When talking about transitioning away from his church, he mentioned how he has been with a therapist for 12 years, has a spiritual director, and two leadership coaches.

Already, his mentioned 21-day retreat with a clinical psychologist should implicate signs of overreliance upon secular psychology.

Well, I started working with a a unique kind of psychiatrist down in the area where I’m living right now who does brain scans? It’s a kind of a different approach to psychiatry. It’s not drug based. It’s kind of brain scan based and then a holistic kind of approach to healing your brain…I’m not shocked when he diagnosed me with PTSD and emotional trauma. And he said, ‘you know, have you been through something very traumatic the last few years of your life?’

People might suffer grief and endure actual trauma, but for Comer to exemplify his alleged “PTSD and emotional trauma” reeks of effeminacy. What trauma did he suffer? Feeling stressed out from a job is not traumatic, especially when he was not resisting the arrows of secular culture in Portland. Trauma is often a liberal buzzword which is used by Social Justice advocates like BLM and the Rainbow Jihad, who describe any “adversity” as traumatic experiences.

Comer discusses the burnout he endured and equates it to the suicide rate of CEO’s, who despite all their success choose to kill themselves. He frequently employed the phrase “ego identity” in reference to himself leaving the church he founded. This is a psychological term which alludes to Erikson’s Psychosocial Development. This suggests he views development through a psychological lens rather than a biblical lens.

John Mark Comer has egotistical problems that are reminiscent of the show Billions, where psychiatrist Wendy Rhoades is employed as a therapeutic performance coach at the hedge fund Axe Capital. She deals with the high strung stock traders who require constant sessions to maintain their performance (and their jobs). Yet these traders are also narcissistic and egotistical, which is why they require constant rebalancing.

His reliance on pop psychology and treating extended sabbaticals as therapeutic gifts embodies narcissism, which further evidenced itself in his view of the pastorate. Taking a 21-day retreat with a psychologist signifies that he is an experiential seeker and views therapy as of spiritual benefit. It is plausible (and perhaps probable) that the retreat in question could have indulged in New Age practices. This is a problem, especially as psychology is vehemently anti-God in its promotion of transgenderism and psychotropic medication.

Comer’s Idea of the Pastorate

Coinciding with these other two concerns is Comer’s belief in leadership and the nature of the pastor. The comparison’s to CEO’s and entrepreneurs is evident throughout the interview, and pastors are almost the same as chief executives, just over a church, not a business.

I don’t have a common personality matrix that you know to most pastors do. So I always have felt like the odd person out, and I think the result is I regularly felt like I had to fit a certain template to be a quote, good pastor and, because I wanted so badly to be a good pastor, I kept trying to cram my life into this template of a basically busy, extroverted community organizer kind of person, and that’s just not who I am.

Notice the template of a good pastor he describes himself not being suited for, from a personality standpoint, has nothing to do with being a proper expositor of Scripture. It is not about evangelizing, preaching the gospel, or growing closer to God, but being an “extroverted community organizer.” That is not what a pastor is, and if he thinks that is the template for what one is supposed to be, then he does not understand the core role which he abandoned.

He then goes on to discuss leadership models of churches being less singular in focus and having a team of elders and leaders, which while good, he proceeds to input pop-psychology.

I always felt like, I don’t know if I should say this in a podcast, but you know that business Maxim, the triangle. What is it? Good, fast, cheap and the maxim is, pick two you can have. You can have good and fast, will it be expensive or you can have fast and cheap, but it won’t be good…

He then employs this secular maxim to the role of pastor.

I always kind of felt like in that lead pastor role, there is teaching at a high level, leading at a high level, being an emotionally healthy person who is a good husband and father.

Basically, a pastor can only be two of the three and it is an exception if they are all three: a good leader, a good teacher, and a good father. This is ridiculous and antithetical to Scripture. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 states:

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

A pastor is supposed to be all of the above, not 2/3. He touts his 20 years in ministry yet is 42 and has left his church having made enough money to sustain himself. A pastor is supposed to “do it all” and be above reproach, not become a leader who is a good father, but a poor teacher. There are plenty of pastors who can do such, but they are not national names, because it is easier to become a national brand taking shortcuts and being 2/3 of a good pastor according to the triangle.

Instead, Comer utilizes his sabbatical to articulate how God is leading him and where he sees himself in ministry in the coming years.

I felt like the Spirit said to me, are you willing to take the lonely path? And I don’t think I and I said yes, but I don’t think I realized just how lonely the path would be. Long term, that’s really dangerous. Short term, it’s part of how God creates leaders.

It is dangerous when one claims to hear the Holy Spirit speak to them, as this is employed in charismatic excess. Nevertheless, he employs eisegesis with desert imagery as God leading him through the wilderness to his next project. This is much emphasis on self, no emphasis on others whom pastors are called to serve. Jesus taught by washing the disciples feet, signifying servant leadership, but Comer’s self-centered approach to ministry disregards the people whom he previously served.

Practicing the Way

To borrow a secular maxim of “those who can’t do teach” when applied to the church would be “those who can’t preach, teach.” Though teaching is perhaps an overly generous way of describing a grift. In the case of John Mark Comer, rather than return to a pulpit, he instead started a nonprofit called Practicing the Way which hopes to teach Christians the tools to navigating modern life or in his words, “a curriculum for Christlikeness.”

In a separate video on the website, Comer identifies the issue of how he plateaued in spiritual maturity. Then, Comer describes how they are developing nine practices for spiritual formation: Sabbath, Solitude, Prayer, Fasting, Scripture, Simplicity, Generosity, Hospitality, and Community. He claims that these rules are based “on the ways of Jesus Himself that is conducive to deep inner healing and transformation.” What he is basically selling is self-help with Jesus, which is predatory towards Christians who are struggling in their walk or those false converts who view the church as a means of self-help or “self-growth.” Scripture should be first and foremost, as Jesus is the word incarnate, but it is listed as fifth, after solitude. This is an attempt to become 12 Rules for Life, except 9 Rules for Christians, which will loosely adapt scripture through eisegesis to justify these self-help practices. Why not 10 Rules, better yet, commandments, or was that already taken?

And while the resources are entirely free, the nonprofit will benefit from donations, printed materials, podcasts, and likely speaking engagements. Rather than become a pastor, John Mark Comer reduced himself to a self-help coach who failed to balance his own life in ministry, but worry not, he has the answers.

Conclusion

John Mark Comer spent 20 years in ministry only to take a sabbatical due to feeling burned out and “traumatized,” so rather than take up an everyday vocation, he instead moved into the self-help realm and church leadership grift, just like Carey Nieuwhof, his interviewer. For someone who is otherwise qualified to leave the pastorate should not be automatically disparaging. Callings change over time, people move, or perhaps they take up a different ministry, whether it be overseas or at a seminary as a good, bible believing professor teaching future pastors. Others might instead take up a normal vocation. Instead, Comer wants to have it both ways, thus becoming a “self-help” guru because that probably pays better than a 9-5 job while being less laborious and more glamorous.

John Mark Comer is a man who lacks the stomach and mental fortitude to be a pastor, nor does he possess an understanding of what is a pastor. While Comer might not be behind a pulpit full-time, he will remain an influencer in the church, one whose narcigesis, self-help, and pop psychology should be avoided, as there are much better expositors of scripture Christians readily available.

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