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.