Life of a Free-Range Preacher: An Interview with Barbara Taylor


Barbara Brown Taylor makes a living out of words--in the past, as an Episcopal priest and currently as a writer and professor at Piedmont College. Though I only recently discovered her work, I quickly fell in love with her and have since read every one of her books including The New York Times bestselling An Altar in the World and her collected sermons in Bread of AngelsGospel Medicine, and God in Pain. Her breathtaking turns of phrase and depth of thought create a feast that must be savored slowly. Sometimes I have to read a passage two or three times before I feel like I've fully experienced it. Though I don't agree with every point she makes in every word she pens, I've found some of Taylor's insights into the Christian life to be on par with greats like--brace yourself--Lewis and Tozer.

I'm not the only one who thinks highly of her. Taylor was ranked as one of the 12 “most effective preachers" in the English-speaking world according to a worldwide survey. She was also listed as one of the top 10 most influential living preachers in a poll conducted by LifeWay Research of the Southern Baptist Convention. In this interview, Taylor talks about the Church, compassion fatigue, and her spiritual memoir, Leaving Church, in which she describes spending 15 years in Episcopal parish ministry before walking away from the pulpit.

JM: In the introduction to Leaving Church, you compare your ordination with a marriage. What feelings did you have when you walked away from it?

BBT: I did not walk away from ordination—I am still a priest in good standing in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. But I did decide to leave parish ministry after 15 years, which meant “moving out of the house” I had shared with a congregation for the last five of those years. The feelings were exactly what you would expect at first: grief, sadness, guilt—and anger, for all kinds of sensible and invented reasons. But after a few months most of those feelings gave way to the excitement of beginning a different kind of ministry in a new setting that opened up all kinds of doors for me. Now I feel lasting gratitude for the years I spent in parish ministry, matched only by my gratitude for the job I have now. I love being a teacher, all the way down to my bones.