Making a change in pastoral ministry is challenging for any pastor and his family, even when they have chosen the time to make that transition. However, a staff pastor and family who are released from their present ministry and must make a transition to a new place of ministry face a different situation. Thus the question, “How should a minister respond, act, and live if he is asked to leave his pastoral ministry?”
Ministers have been released from staff ministry positions for various reasons: decreased church income, downsizing of pastoral staff, the phasing out of a particular ministry position or consolidating church ministries. Regardless of the reason(s) for ministry release, this type of transition can be traumatic to the pastor and his family. Because of the emotional, financial, spiritual, and family issues, this topic must be addressed to help ministers and their families who have been asked to transition from their church ministry. Having been through this type of transition myself as a staff pastor in the past due to pastoral change and staff downsizing, I share some insights that will help edify and support the minister and his family who are in transition.
The ministry family leaving a church may experience emotional stress, financial strain, grief, and a sense of frustration. The exiting staff pastor may question the effectiveness, value, usefulness, credibility, future, and potential of his ministry. Income may be an issue, especially if the staff pastor was the major wage earner in the family. There will also be the question of health insurance. Because health costs can be expensive, health insurance is a necessity. If a transitioning staff member lives in a church parsonage he may wonder, How long can we live here? These are just a few of the concerns that a transitioning staff pastor will be forced to address. What follows are a few suggestions that will help the transitioning pastor and family.
1. Affirm your personhood as a Christian.
God loves you. You, your ministry, and family are valuable to Him. He knew this change would take place before you were asked to make your transition. He has confidence that, with His help, you will make it and your future will still be bright. He knows this is a traumatic change that affects your life, finances, ministry, self-perceptions, spouse, and children.
2. Continue growing in your personal faith walk with God.
You will need to grow spiritually through this situation. Don’t become stuck on, Why is this happening to me? Instead ask,How can I grow through this situation and see glory brought to God?
3. Spend time with your spouse and your children.
Keep channels of communication open between you and your spouse. Pray together and for each other. Do not ignore your children. Although there are some details your children should know, be selective in what information you share with them and be gentle in how you tell them. Help them see positive aspects of this transition.
4. Continue serving God with all your might.
You may feel like giving up and/or quitting the ministry. Do not allow anyone’s comments or actions dissuade you from using the ministry gifts God has blessed you with in your life. Although you may need to work a secular job for a while, continue seeking for God’s will in a new place of ministry. Always remember that God is faithful and will always be with you.
5. Find a confidante with whom you and your spouse can share your hurts, concerns, and fears.
It is normal to experience emotional pain and cope with hurt feelings. Do your best with God’s help to handle your feelings in a positive manner. Your entire family needs support and understanding. Don’t feel guilty or embarrassed to secure competent, confidential and caring professional Christian counseling.
6. Accept help from your family and friends.
Others may want to come along side and help. Allow them to be blessed by helping you in any way they can.
7. Find a church in which to be involved as you are seeking God’s will.
You will appreciate this type of support during this time.
8. Never allow any person, word, or situation influence you to become unforgiving, bitter, or unkind.
You may not have had a choice in your transition or departure date, but you still have, by reason of your free will, a choice of how you will handle your situation. You can choose what to say and how to act toward those who may have set in motion a series of uncomfortable events. Do not seek revenge, and do not seek to damage the reputation of those who have made the decision about your transition.
9. If still in the church from which you will transition, when you leave and after you have left, remember to nurture positive attitudes, loving actions, and speak uplifting words.
Be loving and kind to superiors, even if you feel unjustly treated.
10. Regardless of the reasons for your transition, it is wise to view your situation as a means for a new and fresh ministry.
Look forward to what God has for your future. God can heal each pain and create something good out of every situation you face in life.
God knows every detail of our lives. He will prepare a wonderful future for you and help you continue being productive. God can take any situation or experience in life and use it to facilitate personal and professional growth. He will open new doors of opportunity and use our situation for His glory and honor. As you travel through the transition process allow God to help you and your family grow in your faith, gifts and ministries. Remember that God will bless you, be with you, help you and make a brighter future for you as you journey through the transition process. To God be the glory.