As coach, colleague, and friend, I’ve been in many conversations about when and whether to seek the next job, the next call, or the next appointment. While most of my experience around this has been with other pastors, anyone can find themselves wondering if it’s time to make a move.
How do you know when it’s time to make a move?
For me one of those moments felt like restlessness, with a metaphor that paralleled my personal life. I had served in a very hands-on role as pastor of a 100-member church. It’s possible my excitement about finally being out of seminary and serving in a local congregation exacerbated my natural tendency to do things for others whether they needed me to or not. In the years I served there, my children grew older and became more independent. When I listened to my internal monologue carefully and heard myself saying, “I’m tired of tying other peoples’ shoes for them,” I knew it was time. After a conversation with my denominational leader, I moved to an intentional interim ministry position with a congregation that expected me to facilitate leadership rather than performing all the tasks of ministry myself.
What can you learn from your inner monologue?
Sometimes the feeling is not restlessness, but rather inertia. We may have a sense there’s nothing more we can do in a particular place, or see in ourselves that we’re no longer inspired as we once were. I think a lot of pastors are feeling that way as we shift from phase 37 of the pandemic to whatever phase is coming next, contending with the latest iteration of congregational and community anxiety and complaints. I would suggest this is a time when all clergy should be examining whether they still feel called to the place where they serve now. It’s a question we cannot answer by looking back to the church we served two years ago; instead we have to look at what the needs are now and what they may be in the year that is to come. We may have the skills to serve in this place, under these circumstances, but do we have the desire to use them? If not, it might be time to consider what’s next.
How would you gauge your energy for the work you are doing?
I want to acknowledge that making a move is complicated for some of us by our circumstances or our identities. Our possibilities may be limited by family commitments and geography. For women, People of Color, and LGBTQIA+ people, there may be limitations due to the theological, social, or political stances of congregations or denominations. That may mean our discernment is less about how to move and more about how to stay put while still acknowledging the truth of our yearning to lead and minister in a different space.
Both kinds of discernment can mean saying no to one thing in order to make the space to say yes to what’s next. You’ve probably heard the story of a woman who wanted nothing more than to find a partner in life. She could not figure out why the connection she desired was just not happening. A friend pointed out that her closet was so full that there was no room for anyone else to take up residence in her space. She emptied half the closet, and soon after, she met the person who would become her significant other. I share this not as a “law of attraction” type of illustration! Instead I find the richness of this story in the work of looking through what we keep stored inside us. What can we take off the shelf or pull off the hangers and let go? How can we make more space for what matters to us? Or simply make more space so our spirits can breathe? What would it be like to stop maintaining everything we have assigned to ourselves?
What could you say no to and make space for something new?
Wherever you are on the continuum, reader, whether starting something new, or ready to make a move, or content where you are, I’m praying for you.