I realize not all endings to a pastoral ministry are surprising or even unnecessary, but some pastors are unfortunately caught off guard by their dismissal. From my conversations with some of these pastors, here are some agonies I had not considered enough:
- Losing some of their identity. You might argue that a position is not our identity, but it’s hard to separate what we do from who we are when we do ministry.
- Visiting other churches and answering questions about what they do. It’s hard enough to visit other places, but it’s even harder when you try to explain your current [lack of] position.
- Seeing their name removed from the church sign. It’s always a bit disconcerting to see how quickly churches move on, even when the pastor’s departure is a positive one.
- In a church with a parsonage, suddenly having no home. Fewer and fewer churches have a parsonage these days, but this issue is still a real one. To feel “homeless” only compounds the pain.
- Dealing with feelings of inadequacy and failure. Even if we don’t believe we’ve done anything wrong, a dismissal almost always raises internal questions. No pastors ever assume this will happen to them.
- Questioning their call, perhaps for the first time. Our call keeps us moving forward (see this post), but a sudden end to a ministry often leads to doubts. At a minimum, we wonder if we really want to continue doing what our calling demands.
- Losing friends—even previously trusted ones—in the church. Church friends can be our best friends, but church pain can also be incredibly painful. Disagreement in a church can result in frayed relationships that take a long time to mend.
- Watching their family hurt with them. It’s hard not to feel guilty when your family grieves, lashes out, or gives up as a result of your ministry situation.
- Hearing spiritual advice from others who’ve never walked in their shoes. The advice usually comes from people who truly care and want to offer comfort, but it’s hard to hear if you haven’t been there.
- Dealing with inaccuracies and incomplete information on social media. It might be best to avoid reading any social media in this difficult situation, but few of us are disciplined enough to ignore it completely. Public division and sometimes blatant lies hurt.
I’m sure there are other agonies some of you can add to this list. Say a prayer today for a pastor you know who’s been let go for unclear, unexplained, or wrong reasons.
Yes. SO difficult. I would add one more agony of a terminated pastor: ANGER. Lot’s of it.
Insightful as always. After 30 years the scar is still there
It is when they treat you like you were their dentist or something! A true pastor invests his heart and it seems like the church can switch pastors like switching dentists. It is a sad commentary on the lack of mutual investment in church and pastor relationships. Not all are like this certainly, but far too many are. A pastor needs some reciprocity in the relationship. Of course this assumes he gives his heart fully to the Lord and the people.
35 years ago this summer, my 2nd grade daughter asked, “Daddy, why can’t I go back to my Sunday School class? Don’t they love us anymore?” I answered the first question, but never the second. In due time, God’s grace brought healing and new ministry, but the loss of that season can never be fully known unless you’ve lived it yourself.
I am not a pastor, but have lost my standing over 25 years ago. But Jesus was with me as I changed professions, pay cut in half, and could have been humiliated to no end. But the Lord kept me helping others who were down and out, and I am starting a writing ministry that has not many, but major impact on society. The Lord of All knows how to rebuild lives. I am living proof. You can be too. Lord Bless