It was the Oklahoma Ministers’ Wives Weekend. Standing in the dinner line, I looked up, and just a few feet ahead of me stood the pastor’s wife who served previously in the Oklahoma City church where my husband and I just concluded our ministry. I glanced behind me and just a few feet behind me stood the young pastor’s wife who followed me in our former pastorate in Stillwater, Okla. It’s a small world. In that moment, I reflected on our ministry journey in the midst of what represented the past, present and future.
“You never know where you are going to end up!” I have found myself saying this several times over the past 30-plus years in ministry as my husband and I have followed God on a journey that has woven us in and out of both pastoral and denominational positions. Only God knew that the place where my husband will soon return is one where he served previously. Ironically, it’s also where I myself serve.
Ministers and their families are called to a unique lifestyle. It’s one that requires a 24/7 commitment. It’s one that involves opening up our hearts, loving people and walking with them through the highs and lows of their lives. The responsibility that the pastor as a shepherd carries as he cares for the flock is weighty and one in which he is accountable to God.
When a man and his family give themselves to a congregation, the process of discerning God’s will to move can take months and be agonizing. Leaving a congregation is like leaving a part of yourself behind. Now, in the midst of transition, I am focusing on these ways to honor God:
1. Deal with emotions appropriately.
It’s normal to experience a mixture of emotions. Some experience sadness over leaving, grief over a change in relationships or regret and disappointment over unmet expectations. In some cases, if we’re honest, there may be frustration. There is appreciation for friendships, gratitude for God’s accomplishments and excitement toward what lies ahead. We would be wise to recognize this is normal and give ourselves time to deal with these mixed emotions. Focusing on the positive things God has done helps keep our perspective.
2. Conclude ministry commitments responsibly.
Wrap up projects, clean out space, return equipment, leave passwords. Leave a detailed job description and timeline for projects. Pray for and pave the way for your successor to transition as smoothly as possible. Prepare for them as you would hope the person you follow would prepare for you. Don’t be tempted to get lazy, call in sick, let things go or dump pressing decisions on others that should be taken care of on your watch. Dropping the ball in the eleventh hour hurts everyone. Serve wholeheartedly. We work for the Lord regardless of where we are serving. God calls us to lives of integrity.
3. Leave graciously.
Transition and upheaval in any organization can leave people feeling vulnerable. I am reminded daily, “Don’t let Satan get a foothold.” Think carefully before speaking critically about a former congregation or denominational entity. Refuse to speak evil. Keep relationships right and, if needed, repair relationships. In today’s world, relationships continue, even though the nature of them changes. Relationships we think are over may not be. You never know where you’re going to end up! Express appreciation and thanks to people and tell them what they have meant to you. Communicate to friends that you want to continue the friendship.
4. Evaluate the past with the future in mind.
Now is the time to stop and reflect. We should spend as much time evaluating as we spent making the decision to transition to another position. Consider these questions and write answers in a journal. This will not only bring closure but help keep a positive perspective:
- What has God taught me during this season of ministry?
- What am I grateful for?
- What would I have done differently?
- How can I keep the friendships that have been developed?
Let’s set the example and pave the way for those who follow and continue the work. We’re all on the same team, serving together as God joins our lives and moves us as He sees fit. You never know where you’re going to end up!