coaching, Discernment, Ministry

When it’s time to make a move

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.

Reflectionary

I Go to Church

I love going to church. Except for 3rd grade, when I was expected to memorize the books of the Bible, I have always loved going to church. I’ve experienced a deep sense of God’s presence in the gathered community, found joy in singing both with choirs and congregations, made friends and encountered mentors, been comforted in times of terrible loss, and discovered my voice. I’ve also had my feelings hurt, wondered why bad things happen, and wished I could run away and never come back. This seems to me a reasonable aggregate of the human experience, with the the added benefit of incorporating a purposeful connection to God. 

As a little Southern Baptist girl, I aspired to marry a pastor. Later in life, and under different denominational influences, when I realized I had a call to ministry, everything made sense. I would be one of the people who helped make all those things happen for others. My great love in life became my work, and as part of it, I went to church, gladly, even when budgets were tight, or politics fraught, or justice undone. I believe in the possibility nascent in the gathered body of the faithful, and in the power God extends to us to make things happen. 

I’m smitten with this preacher.
(Photo credit: Kathie Carmines)

I still love going to church.

Almost every Sunday now, though, I sit in church as a worshiper, not a leader. Most weeks, I worship with the community my wife serves. I can count on hearing solid and often soaring preaching from both pastors on staff. The congregational singing is, and I do not exaggerate, amazing. I appreciate being part of a faith community that serves the wider world in tangible ways. I see the same people week in and week out and keep a neighborly eye on them as I know they do on my family. 

In the interests of full disclosure, however, I do avoid the few people who have been guilty of micro-aggressions toward our queer clergy family, sing the doxology inclusively despite what is printed in the bulletin, and don’t always like what’s on the church sign. And I’m not going to lie; sometimes sitting in the pew raises existential questions about how I am serving God, and leaves me feeling a bit bereft. 

Still, I show up on Sunday, not because I must, but because I may, and I desire to be in worship, and I know full well that there is no church that will do everything to my complete satisfaction – not even one I serve as pastor myself. At this point in my life, I want to give back to the Church that nurtured me by being present in a church that nurtures others, by offering my gifts when appropriate, by supporting the pastors and staff who work so hard and so faithfully. To all the pastors and program staff of all the churches, thank you for the work you do, often in the face of great challenges, and not just on Sundays. 

Thank you for making church happen. 


A version of this post appeared in the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader.

Prayers for Pastors

When there’s nothing you can do (a prayer for pastors)

Sometimes the news comes
And there’s nothing you can do.
It’s too late, or too soon,
Or the middle of some
Slow-moving crisis
That is not yours to tend.

Sometimes they forget to tell you,
Or call late but say,
“Don’t come now.”
You lie awake.
Maybe you pray.
But there’s nothing you can *do.*

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Sometimes you are right there,
But immediate needs are bodily,
And it is not your turn to act.
Sit still. Listen.
Just be.
You can’t always act the hero.

And on those days, those nights,
When your part to play is
Spouse, Parent, Lover,
Child –
Let someone else take over.
If they offer to pray, say, “Please.”