Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Should I stay or should I go?

In the beginning, I loved my job as the Pastor of the Riverton Church. I also loved it in the middle, but at some point in the middle I began to understand that I had fulfilled my calling to this particular church. As much as I still loved the people and the job, I needed to move on, so I initiated a job search and submitted my resignation.

Now, the conventional wisdom about job searching is that there are pluses and minuses to resigning before securing a new position, but the minuses usually outweigh the pluses.

The minuses mostly involve the financial pain of losing a steady paycheck.

The pluses are many--if, and this is a very big if--you, like me, feel able to take on the huge risk of losing a regular income and all the potential repercussions of that.

Here are what I see as the pluses of searching for a position as a pastor while you are not currently serving a church.

You have time for discernment. Let's be real--discerning what God wants for your life takes some effort. When you take the energy you have spent discerning what God is calling you to do in relation to the church that you serve out of the equation and put that energy into discerning what God requires of you, period, that is a powerful thing.

You can be totally open about your search. This is a big deal for most pastors--especially in my denomination, because we rely on references from people in congregations we have served in order to find a new position. It doesn't feel very fair--or even very smart--to tell people in our home church that we are searching for a position in a job market in which many searches end in rejection.

You can "take your act out on the road" and preach at other churches to see how your message comes across in a variety of contexts. The longer you serve in a particular church, the more likely you are to fall into a habit of preaching in a style that suits them. A really good preacher needs to connect with an audience, and if you have the same audience every week, you may come to rely too much on established relationships to make that connection.

You are free on Sunday mornings. Successful clergy job searches often come down to a few candidates, and at that point the hopefuls have to preach in a "neutral pulpit"--that is, in a congregation that is neither the one you serve nor the one you hope to serve.  This is a difficult thing to manage if you currently serve as a pastor that preaches almost every Sunday.

The ultimate decision of whether you stay in a ministry position or resign is between you and God, but because it effects so many other people, the discernment process that goes into that decision can feel pretty burdensome. Do not be afraid to ask for support before, during, and after the decision. Where I serve the denomination makes available free counseling and some financial support. In some states, if your income dips below a certain level, you may qualify for governmental help with health insurance premiums or SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps.)  In addition, you may find that family, friends and colleagues can help you by providing referrals for work that bridge the gap. Through local denominational officials you should try to get on lists of supply Pastors--pastors who fill pulpit vacancies during a vacation or extended absence of a Pastor. (In some states it is possible and advisable to get on supply lists for multiple denominations and/or clergy associations.)  You may feel too proud to ask for this sort of help, but before you reject the idea out of hand, take that to God as well. Accepting help when you are in a difficult period can be an important life lesson. It can help you learn what it is really like to be in the position of the people who have come to you as a Pastor and asked you for help over the years. That's not a bad thing.
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