Maybe you saw it coming, or maybe it hit you out of nowhere like a Mack truck into a brick wall at 90 miles an hour…The ministry you were living and breathing, has come to an end. It may have been abrupt- a new senior leader came in and several (or all) of the staff leaders are gone. Or the congregation voted, and out of nowhere, you are now just OUT.

The change could also have been a long time in coming; a ministry on life support, just waiting for that new ministry position, feeling and sensing things coming to an end- and then at last- the finality of announcing that you are moving on.

Bottom line: This is a time of transition. And there is a ministry loss involved (the loss of one before a new one comes).

Whether or not you knew this was coming, we are rarely “prepared” for a ministry loss. We all hope to be at our church “forever”, and yes, we’ve all heard the stories of “He was at that church for 47 years and died in the pulpit” but the reality is this: MINISTRY POSITIONS END. And most of them will NOT last; only a very small percentage of ministers get to stay in one place more than 5 years. There is a lot of debate as to why that sad fact exists, but my purpose here today is not to tell you how to AVOID transitions in ministry. Almost all of us will have to deal with one or two along the way. I want to encourage you and give you any small insight I can to go THROUGH a transition WELL.Transitions are tricky- and involve some level of pain. As a staff pastor at a very large church, I saw countless staff come on board, leave for new ministries, or be let go, or have their positions eliminated. Some knew what was coming and others did not. I have also left positions and taken new ones a couple of times in my own ministry career- and I know first hand how difficult that can be!

So here are a few things I have learned (sometimes the hard way) during my own ministry changes and losses and from other pastors who have survived more than I ever will. Directly following a ministry loss/transition:

  1. DO- give yourself some time to process the enormity of the loss. You have to allow yourself time to grieve. Many pastors have likened their exit from a church to a death- the death of something they loved very very much. Ministry is like NO other job on earth. You cannot understand if you haven’t lived it. It’s not just a JOB, it’s your whole life. And the people of that church become your FAMILY, your support system, your counselors, your prayer partners. So when a minister leaves a church for whatever reason, they not only lose their source of income, their security- they also lose their place to attend church, their close friends, their support system, etc. They lose their entire way of life. And if you have a spouse and/or children, this adds another loss- watching them grieve as they say goodbye as well. It’s also the loss of your hopes and dreams that you had for that ministry and that church- you are grieving the loss of the good that was, and the loss of a future that now will not be. Your whole heart and soul was tied up in those dreams. In a “normal” career, if you leave your job, your family will likely stay in the area, in your own home, with their current friends, in their usual school, with the support of their church family and friends. A pastor may lose it all when their church position is gone. Many times the church will bar pastors and staff from attending the church after they resign or are let go, to “assure loyalty to the new staff.” The loss for the minister and their family can be all encompassing, involving a move to a new city, new church, new schools, new friends… Many pastors say they have had to go through all five stages of grief- shock, anger, sadness, bargaining and finally acceptance.
  2. DON’T- rush yourself into a new ministry position too soon. Many pastors do this because they need the source of income. But you have to let yourself grieve. And don’t stuff your feelings down; you’re going to have to acknowledge them sooner or later. And it’s not fair to carry that on to the next place of ministry and carry out your grief (or anger or mistrust) on that poor group of unsuspecting people. If you can remember back to when you were dating, you may remember cautioning someone, “Don’t take the first person you see right after a breakup. Avoid the rebound person!” That advice holds true after a ministry “breakup” too. Your judgement may be clouded while you are grieving. You may not be hearing God clearly right now, and may inadvertently jump right from the frying pan into the fire. Which leads us to –
  3. DO wait on God for clear direction as to your next steps. He hasn’t forgotten you. He will tell you what to do. God called you so one person or one church cannot UNCALL you. When he called you into ministry, He didn’t turn to ask anyone’s permission, and He doesn’t need their permission to use you now. His gifts and calling are irrevocable. He still has a ministry for you- a future and a hope. Don’t settle.
  4. Don’t believe the myth, “If I don’t jump into a new ministry seamlessly, I’ll never work in ministry again.” That is simply not true. Remember that God opens the doors you are supposed to be in. Wait for His right door.
  5. DO find a great support system. You may have lost some of your best friends and supporters. You need safe people to talk to. You need to be able to rely on your extended family, friends and ministerial colleagues at this point. The key here is to find SAFE people to talk to who will give you wise, loving counsel and let you talk/grieve. Your network of minister friends and colleagues will be invaluable to you when you are ready to take a ministry position again.
  6. DO go for counseling if you can. There should never be any stigma on getting wise confidential help from a professional counselor.
  7. DO take a vacation. Take care of YOU. Get healthy. Work to improve yourself. DON’T just sit there. Go to a conference. Finish that book you’ve been planning to write. Go finish that degree. You cannot improve what happened; but you can improve YOU.
  8. DON’T just talk to anyone who wants to talk to you about it. It’s not okay to try to destroy the church, ministers and ministry at the church you are leaving- regardless of how it went down. And some people are NOT safe to talk to. They just want juicy gossip, and perhaps drama. They aren’t going to help you heal, in the end- they’ll just pour salt on the wounds. These are the kind of people who want to come tell you everything that is happening at the church you just left- who said what about you, what your replacement is doing wrong and how they took down your beloved jungle set in kid’s church. You do not need those conversations when you are trying to grieve. I heard one pastor’s wife tell her best friend, “I love you Amy. But if we are going to stay best friends, we cannot talk about everything going on at First Church right now. I need some time to heal. Our friendship has to be more than my former church.”
  9. DO forgive those who may have hurt you. The Bible says that we must forgive others as Christ forgave us. Not because they deserve it – because they probably don’t. But for Jesus’ sake. And for our own sake! We may not FEEL those feelings right away; but we make the DECISION to obey and forgive and the feelings follow later. Don’t let a ministry loss come between you and your Savior. Know that Scripture tells us that God DOES vindicate in His time, not ours. Forgive and leave them to Him. You still have work to do.

How about you? Have you been through a ministry loss/transition? What helped you get through it? What tips can you give others for surviving and then shining in a tough time between ministries?

Love from the bottom of my heart- Trishablog

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