Pastor to Pastor: 5 Questions About Pastoral Transitions

Yesterday was the anniversary of my resignation of my last pastoral position. The transition was fantastic as was my tenure there. Serving at Christian Celebration Center were 7 of the greatest years of my life (thank you to Facebook and their “memories” feature for the reminder). 

These past 24 hours, combined with the past few pastor-to-pastor blogs, has brought up a thought of pastoral transitions. 

Do all pastors know how to leave churches appropriately? Judging by numbers of congregants I’ve encountered: no.

I’M NOT AN EXPERT IN THIS. Why? Because I don’t have extensive experience with personal resignations (which I celebrate and give God the glory for). In 19 years of ministry, I have held 3 positions including my current one. But being a Lead Pastor and being networked with numbers of other pastors, I have had extensive experience in talking men and women through this tough experience. 

5 Questions you should be asking when it comes to pastoral transition: 

What does your spouse say?

When I talk with pastors, I always ask about their spouse. Why? The two become one. And listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit on transitions, I believe, should be done in the oneness of the marriage. Any transition I have done, I refused to do without the prayer and input of my wife, Anne.  There should be red flags going up if you and your spouse don’t/won’t communicate and work together during these times.  We do not move anywhere unless we both have the peace that passes understanding.

Pray IN the oneness of marriage. Hear IN the oneness of marriage. Walk IN the oneness of marriage.

Why are you leaving? 
– Are you sensing the Holy Spirit leading you in a new direction?
– Do you sense a close of a season of ministry where you are at?
– Are you being transitioned out because of a change in leadership?
– Are you in a place of fracture?
– Have sinful decisions put you in a place of having to transition out? 

The answer encompasses two things: listening to God and honesty with yourself. First, how closely are you listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit?Have you and your spouse spent time fasting and praying over this? Do you both have a peace about leaving? It can be quit easy to listen to our emotions.  Being wanted by another church/pastor is flattering and (if I can say it this way) seductive.  I have to always remind myself: open doors do not necessarily mean they were meant to be walked through. On the other side of our emotions, we can allow hurt and frustration to fool us into thinking a door is closing.  I’ve been there.  And I have to remind myself that my emotions are real and important but were never designed to rule my life. Like the Psalmist (Psalms 42-43), we need to steward our emotions and make sure we’re listening to the Holy Spirit for direction.

Secondly, sometimes we pastors can over-spiritualize the departure and never be truly honest about the “why” of our leaving.  An honest approach makes us confront the issues at hand and help us move toward the healing we AND a congregation needs.  Are you needing the transition? Is the congregation needing the transition? Has God brought the season to a close? The answer can vary but it needs to be honest. And the more forthright you are with the reason, the greater opportunity for God to help.  Bring it into the light. Are you hurt? Be honest with yourself about it. Do you feel a release? Be honest with yourself about it.

Who is advising you?

The bible says, “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.” I learned a long time ago, the enemy works in isolation, God works in community. Bring community around you that has a heart after God, a love for you, and the guts to shoot straight. It’s not about seeking voices to make you feel better, but you need Godly wisdom to help you through this. Find two types of counsel. Get some “Barnabas” people (peers).  These are encouragers who are in similar places where you are at. They’ll connect with you because they’re in somewhat identical elements.  BUT…make sure you get the other type of counsel. Get some “Paul” people (mentor). These are wiser people who, perhaps, are people who have walked this road before. I value the input by older wiser pastors. Their wisdom is of immense proportion to me and decisions I make. 

How are you leaving?

There’s a couple of statements I make to every person who contacts me regarding a resignation: “Don’t leave in a way to make yourself feel better or justified. Leave in a way that is going to give God glory.”  You leaving shouldn’t invoke any type of spirit of retribution or anger. On the other side, don’t leave like a diva (trying to center everything about you).  The church you are leaving is staying put and they need to think about the next step. If they want to honor you when you leave, that’s fine. It’s a good thing. But when you start making diva-demands about how you are to be honored, you are treading on dangerous ground.

This isn’t YOUR church. This isn’t YOUR ministry. This is the Lord’s church.  Just as much as you expect those who leave the church you pastor in a respectful, Godly way…you are no different. We walk in submission to His Lordship. Leave in a way that leaves a Christ-like taste on the pallets of people’s spirits. 

What’s my next step? 
– Where are you going?
– Do you, your marriage, or your children/family need healing? 
– Do you need a sabbatical from ministry?
– Should vocational ministry the right next step?
– Are you seeking/needing help?

The highest calling isn’t a ministry title; it’s obedience.  Be obedient to the next step that God has for you and your family regardless of the “title” (or lack thereof).  

I’ll never forget what my dad spoke into my life back in high school. “David, no one can tell you God’s will for your life. You need to hear from the Holy Spirit yourself.” I’ve valued that wisdom. It doesn’t mean I don’t seek advice of other pastors and leaders. It doesn’t mean I reject counsel. But Anne and I need to be sensitive to His leading on what the next step is. Do you need healing? Before stepping back into vocation ministry, get some healing. Is God leading you away from vocational ministry? Then be obedient.  Having “Pastor” in front of your name does not make you a second-class minister in the Kingdom of God. Just be obedient to how and where the Holy Spirit is leading.  Find the next step and take it no matter how small or big it is.

Your responsibility: obedience to the next step.
God’s responsibility: everything else.

He is faithful. He will equip you. He will guide you.  

Regardless of the reason, transitions are difficult. There’s a lot going on and a lot of pieces moving.  But in whatever you face and whatever changes happen, do everything in a manner that exalts the name of Jesus.

I love you all.  I pray that God would bless you, keep you, and make His face shine upon you. Let His countenance turn toward you and grant you peace.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

 

Pastor to Pastor: Stop Quitting On Monday

 

For years, I’ve heard the old adage from Pastors: I quit my job almost every Monday

Honestly, I get it….but please stop.

(From the get-go of this blog for pastors, I want to speak into this thing of “The Calling” upon your life. The greatest calling you can have upon your life has nothing to do with a title or position per se… 

…the highest calling is obedience. 

I don’t give a crap what title you have. Obedience is the highest calling.  That is to say: If you are where God wants you, you are no less “called” than ANY minister in ANY position regardless of size or notoriety.  Now that I’ve got that established…back to the blog.)

Pastoring can be frustrating.  According to ChurchLeaders.com, the numbers come in at around 1,700 pastors leaving ministry a month. Pastors resign for a number of reasons.  Most articles I’ve read list criticism, failure, loneliness, burnout, discouraged, and frustration as reasons pastors hit the “eject button.” Of course it would be naive to not mention leaving ministry because the Lord is leading in a new direction or your church has changed Lead Pastors and the “fit” as an associate is no longer there.  Pastors leaving a position doesn’t have to be a bad thing and/or a sin thing.  But stats show that most are leaving a bit more fractured than when they started. 

If you are in this place right now, today, Monday…HANG IN THERE! 

Why? From what I see in scripture, most mistakes come when people act out of fatigue and hunger.  From Moses weary from the murmuring,  to Esau selling out for a bowl of soup, examples abound of leaders who acted out of a desperate place (David, Sampson, and Elijah are a few more examples).  Are you feeling weary? Are you famished internally? I get it. Especially on Monday after you’ve studied, counseled, prayed, preached, and served on the weekend. 

For a glimpse moment 17 years ago, I was at my threshold. In just year 2 of ministry, I was exhausted. The passion was gone. I felt beaten up and useless.  Thoughts of “is there anything else I could do with my life?” came through my mind. I wasn’t ready to give up a position.  I was wondering if I was cut out for ministry. I was tired.  I was empty.  And I sat at my computer wiping away my tears trying to type a letter of resignation.

I get it.  

But after 19 years of this ministry thing, I can say: I love being a pastor and there’s nothing else I’d rather do. Not only that, but I get to wake up ever day and pastor Kfirst.  I’m a different beast from 17 years ago.  And there’s a thing or two I had to learn along the way that has not only fed my love for Jesus, but has helped feed my love for pastor ministry. So I thought I’d share a few of them:

Release fractures to Christ.  Brokenness sucks.  And if we do not completely give it over to God, it can be the identity we embrace and take from position to position and/or church to church.  I’ve known pastors who have stepped out of ministry positions who have yet to get past the fracture of the past.  I’ve been there.  It’s an easy place to stay. It’s also a hell-hole to live in. Don’t just give your fractures to Jesus, release them completely to Him.

Find a “Paul” (or two). Pastor’s who isolate themselves are easy targets.  Find a “Paul” (a minister who has more experience and wisdom) for mentoring and accountability. I’m eternally grateful for men like Curt Demoff, Joel Stocker, Hal Barringer (my dad), and a load of others who have been sources of encouragement, wisdom, and (when needed) were willing to kick me in the rear on issues.  Remember: the enemy works in isolation; God works in community. Surround yourself with quality mentors. 

Get a “Barnabas” (or two). As stated before, get into community.  Mentors are great, but you also need peers who are in the same/similar situations for you to encourage as well as for your own encouragement. I love talking with my best friend (Aaron Hlavin) in ministry and don’t know what I’d do without him. My peers mean the world to me and continue to be “iron sharpening iron.” 

Find your identity and your joy in The Lord and not your church. I hear it from pastors all the time. From attendance numbers, finances, to issues rising from the loud minority of people in the congregation, there are always going to be things that want to speak into your identity and joy (or steal it for that matter).  The congregation wasn’t meant to feed who you are nor are they equipped for you to draw your joy from.  Live in the Lordship of Jesus and not of people.  Just that little tip can be a game-changer.  I was for me.

Enjoy time with your marriage and family. Your family isn’t an accessory to your ministry.  They are your first and most important ministry.  Ministers who develop unhealthy marital habits (no dating, inconstant sex, zero healthy communication, etc) are setting themselves up for failure. On top of that, your kids need you more than the congregation.  A healthy marriage will pave the way for healthy family.  Healthy family will help pave the way for healthy leadership.

Feed yourself. Two things.  First, Sermon prep is no substitute for person time with God.  One is preparation to serve the needs of others. The other is serving the needs of your own soul. A starved pastor is a vulnerable pastor. And starvation, if not cared for, can feast on the wrong things. Second, never stop learning. Find some great authors. Listen to podcasts. Get to a conference (in person or online).  Search for ways to deepen yourself from deep people and deep resources. Learn from everyone.

Be Teachable. If you don’t walk in humility, you’ll never grow past where you are at. Pride will callous you from teachable moments. Every encounter you have with people will always be an opportunity to grow.  Even if the method was not correct, look at the heart and/or issue behind it. Is there some way you could grow from the situation? If anything, maybe you learned how NOT to approach issues of offense and frustration. 

Get proper rest. Perhaps the most fruitful thing you can do for your ministry is rest. To the chagrin of some pastors I’ve encountered, “burning out for Jesus” doesn’t glorify Jesus.  It’s driven by pride because it draws more attention to you instead of our Savior.  If Jesus, in his 3 and a half years of ministry took time to rest, perhaps you can get some too. I’d rather be humble enough to rest than be humbled into rest by stress and fatigue. Be a steward of your body and your emotions. Get rest. 

The list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a few of the things I’ve come across that have helped me.  I think of the words of Paul,

“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.” Philippians 3:12

Unless the Lord has released you, don’t move from where you are. Fix your face like flint, humble yourself before the Lord, and seek after the Kingdom. Be faithful where God has placed you. I believe in you. I’m praying for you. And I expect great things in you because of how great Jesus is. 

Press on faithful servant. 

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

 

 

2 Minute Devo #31Days – “Don’t get tired”

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We started a new series this month called “#31Days.” What “#31Days” means is we are encouraging everyone to take the challenge of encouraging someone via social network for 31 days.  Make sure you use the hashtag!

Today’s scripture: Galatians 6:9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.