By Joe McKeever, Crosswalk.com
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/valio84sl
Moreover, it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. – 1 Corinthians 4:2
This position is not yours; you are only a steward. A caretaker. A manager.
Get that wrong and you have bought yourself a lot of grief.
The other day I saw where a well-known news anchor was complaining about being fired from her position a decade or more ago.
“I did nothing wrong,” she said. As if the position was rightfully hers, until she was found “doing something wrong.”
As though that has anything to do with anything.
Pro athletes are traded for a multitude of reasons. Politicians are replaced, managers are fired, and pastors are often sent packing even when they were doing great work.
No one is entitled to a great job forever.
We must not get too attached.
Hold Everything Loosely
Neither should we get angry when it is taken away. We were not promised an easy path.
A number of my preacher friends are going to think this was written just for them. They will be right.
They’ve just lost their ministry positions which had been their existence for many years. They loved that church and delighted in serving Christ there. And now, they’ve been cut loose and told their services are no longer needed. Their pain feels like a death has occurred. They grieve, they fear for their future, and they deal with anger over how they were treated.
In almost every denomination, the termination of ministers is reaching the epidemic level. And shows no signs of abating.
This is a word to every minister, whether still actively serving or nursing wounds from being mistreated….
We must never get so attached to a specific assignment—a church we serve, a position we love, a ministry we perhaps even started—that we “own” it. We must never feel toward a ministry as though it "is us" and we "are it.” Without this job (or position or ministry) we would be lost. Not good.
Sooner or later, we will be giving it up and handing it back to the Master.
A hundred years from now, everyone presently serving churches of all sizes and in all kinds of ways will be gone. It’s just a matter of when. A matter of timing.
It Is the Lord Christ We Serve (Colossians 3:24)
We must put our eyes on Him and keep them there. But not on our office or a specific ministry.
He will always be with us; the particular assignment will not.
He looks for faithfulness, not impressive resumes.
I’m told the story is apocryphal, but I heard Senator Bill Bradley (the former NBA star) tell of receiving a hostile note once. He’d taken a controversial position on some issue of the day, and this citizen was upset. “Bradley,” the note said, “if you vote for that bill, I will personally come to your house and kill your dog.”
Senator Bradley said the guy had actually signed his name and left his address. So, he wrote him back.
“Dear Constituent: I don’t have a dog.”
A few days later, a UPS truck pulled up in the street and delivered a crate containing a little mutt. A note accompanying it said, “Bradley: Don’t get too attached to this dog.”
Don’t Get too Attached to Anything in This World, Christian
Seeing then that all these things are to be destroyed…what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness. – 2 Peter 3:11
Don’t get too attached to the ministry the Lord gave you, Christian worker. It too shall be taken away. Or you taken away from it.
Better to focus on something—Someone!—who will not be taken away.
Winfield “Windy” Rich spent the last half of his ministry helping churches as an interim minister of education. He would fly in from his home in Nashville and work with the church for a few days, then return home. Week in and week out he kept up this schedule—training church leaders, enlisting and encouraging workers, helping pastors—throughout his assignment, usually three to six months.
At the beginning of his work with a church, Windy would announce, “I’ve come to leave.” This was to assure everyone he would not be candidating for a church position or threatening anyone else’s job.
I told Windy, “We’ve all come to leave.”
He and I along with the rest of our staff were all temporary. In time—six months for him, 13 years for me—we were all replaced. That church (First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi) as wonderful a congregation as it was to serve in my 50-year-plus ministry—is still functioning at a high level. I was followed by two outstanding pastors. Dr. Bobby Douglas stayed 15 years and Dr. Shawn Parker 17 years. But we all left.
It’s the Nature of Human Existence
The brevity of life and the temporariness of everything around us are facts of earthly existence.
Pity the leadership of a church which has to forcibly retire a beloved pastor who has outstayed his effectiveness. He served well for many years but he is past his “sell-by date,” as the expression goes. The problem is, he won’t let go, and refuses to retire with honor. The church leadership knows what they have to do, and would rather take a beating than do it.
We feel less sympathy toward that old guy who has become possessive and obstinate about his office. He should have been paying attention to his own preaching over the years, and kept his eyes on the Lord Jesus. He has seen colleagues retire from large churches and take smaller “retirement” ministries and do it well. He should have given some thought to this and planned accordingly. Only his insecurities prevented it. And now he is reaping the harvest for his negligence.
But our hearts really hurt for the younger ones when they are cut loose. They were serving well, they felt, and they had so many friends in the congregation. Their children grew up in that church and perhaps were married there. And now, they have been terminated.
No one in the church wants to call it what it is (termination) and they dress up the decision with words:
“The church is hurting financially and we had to find a way to cut expenses.”
“The new pastor wants to take the church in another direction.”
“Your work met a real need for a number of years, but now we need to make some changes.”
Often, they even ask the departing minister and his family to submit to a “going away reception,” as though this were their idea. The pain of that is incalculable.
9 Encouragements for Hurting Pastors and Families
To the hurting ministers and their families who suddenly find themselves with time on their hands and an uncertain future looming before them, here are nine encouragements:
1. You're not alone. Some of the greatest and most beloved, most effective workers in the Lord’s service, have gone through what you are experiencing. So, you’re not the first. Welcome to the club.
2. God isn't through with you. You’re exactly right, that this does not make this right. But the point is: The Lord is not through with you. He will use this and make you better and stronger, if you will work with Him and let Him. You will be stronger in the broken places.
3. It's okay to grieve. No one is asking you not to hurt or to suggest you not grieve or shed tears. You are human and should give yourself permission to feel this loss in a way natural to you.
4. Read Matthew. Find Matthew 10 and begin reading at verse 16, going through the end of the chapter. That is the assignment of all who serve the Lord. Jesus told us going in what to expect. But the sweetness of God’s people, the comfort of His provisions, and the glories of serving Him can addict us to our beloved place of ministry and lull us into a complacency.
We can forget Jesus said this would be tough, that people can be cruel, that some would even be scourged in houses of worship! (Matthew 10:17). Those persecutions are happening all over the globe, even as we speak. That you and I have had it far easier should be cause for gratitude, and should prompt us to pray for them.
5. Don't retaliate. I personally hope you will guard against the temptation to seek legal help to force the church to do more for you. Lawsuits between believers—especially, when suing a church—bring shame upon the Lord’s work. “Why not rather be wronged?” asked the Lord’s apostle (1 Corinthians 6:7).
6. Help your family understand. In most cases, the terminated minister is going to have to help his family deal with this matter. This may be the hardest work one will ever be called on to do. But helping a wife and children to look to the Lord Jesus, to continue loving those church people in spite of what they have done, and not to make blanket judgments about all the Lord’s churches, will be an ongoing task, one requiring all the strength in Christ the minister can muster.
7. You will get through this. Don’t be surprised if at your next assignment you find your work is deeper, godlier, more mature, more satisfying. Some of us who’ve been where you are later looked back and realized we would never have left the previous place of service for this new assignment voluntarily; that the Lord had to bring us through this round-about way to get us to this place in life. And we will worship Him for His infinite wisdom and amazing compassion.
8. Stand tall. Living well, they say, is the best revenge. And while we will not be seeking revenge on anyone—please!—even so, your standing tall and acting like the Christ-follower you are and then going out to serve Him as a whole, fully-capable disciple of the Man of Galilee, will be the best testimony you can offer. And if you find something in the back of your mind that wants those who cut you loose to someday realize what a truly foolish thing they did, well, that’s not entirely bad. Give yourself permission to feel that.
9. You can do this. You can get through it, even though for a little while you may have to take secular employment to provide for your family. And if you long for a place of service that does not open up, consider starting a neighborhood Bible study in your home. Perhaps God will use that to fulfill His calling in you. Some who have done this have ended up turning their home Bible study into a new church plant. And then…
When you start a new church and you are the pastor and you’ve done it your way, be careful not to “own” the church. According to Matthew 16:18, it’s His church and He will build it.
After all, you will be turning it in at the end of the day. So, be faithful.
Joe McKeever has been a disciple of Jesus Christ more than 65 years, been preaching the gospel more than 55 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian publications more than 45 years. He blogs at www.joemckeever.com.