Now I sense that the Spirit is blowing me in a new direction, to complete my ministry at Emmanuel and for me to engage more deeply in writing and publishing, while also remaining open to new ministry in some other setting. – letter to the church council and congregation, April 17, 2018
“I knew you would leave some day, but I didn’t think it would be now!”
“When we heard that you were deciding to leave, we had to pick up our jaws off the floor before we could do anything else.”
As part of ending well with my congregation, I’ve been sharing some reflections in our Sunday morning adult education time: how I came to pastor at the church in the first place, my best practices for surviving and thriving in ministry over the years, and last Sunday’s session on how to know when it’s time to say goodbye.
For some in the church, my conviction to complete my pastoral ministry with the congregation came as a surprise, but for me that knowing came in a number of different ways–gradually over the last year or more, not in a neat list like the one that follows, but in fits and starts and lots of overlap. But as I’ve reflected on my experience and tried to sort it out in my own mind, I’ve identified these seven ways of knowing that it’s time to say goodbye and focus my ministry in a new direction.
1. The Wind of the Holy Spirit Blowing in a New Direction
Well over a year ago, before I had given any thought to leaving the church, while I was in the midst of ministry I loved and still love today, one day I was talking with one of our church members in the hallway. Then apparently out of nowhere, I had a sudden thought: “I’m really going to miss you when I’m gone.” The thought was so strong that I almost said it out loud, but didn’t. It surprised me, and made me wonder, where did that thought come from? Although I didn’t do anything with it then, it stayed with me, and over time I came to understand it as an early nudging of the Spirit that grew into a clear conviction.
Just as my calling into pastoral ministry came to me by surprise, so my leaving also began with some surprise. Just as twenty-five years earlier, I had felt the Holy Spirit moving me from not even thinking about pastoral ministry to being called, then curious and convicted by it, so I felt this time the Holy Spirit moving me from not even thinking about leaving, to being curious, and then convicted by a new call. I felt the wind of the Spirit blowing in a new direction.
2. A Positive Passion
I’ve read other articles on burnout and losing your passion as signs that it’s time to move on, but in my case it’s quite the opposite, for I sense a positive passion drawing me forward. I published my first articles and books before being called into pastoral ministry, and I’ve continued to write over the years, late at night and early morning, on days off and on vacation. The congregation’s policy of granting a four-month study leave every six years has also been key as I’ve used all of that time for writing projects. too. What’s more the congregation has been flexible in allowing me to take two months at a time more frequently to fit with various writing deadlines, most recently for Four Gifts: Seeking Self-Care for Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength. I’m immensely grateful that the church has valued my writing alongside my pastoral ministry.
With the advent of social media and regular blogging, the writing side of my life has called for even more attention. Readers not connected to my congregation or to any church, contact me with questions, comments, and share their personal stories. I’ve been invited to write for more diverse publications including the Christian Century and Christianity Today. When I signed another book contract with a tight deadline, I sensed my positive passion for writing signalling a new direction.
3. A Sense of Completion
The senior pastor before me had been with the church for six years when he suddenly left—some said he resigned abruptly, others said he was forced out. In my conversation with him, it was clear that whatever happened had been painful for him, and I could see that it had been painful for the church.
So when I accepted the church’s call, I determined then that I would leave well. I realize now that’s not always possible in spite of the best intentions. But by God’s grace, today I’m thankful that I’m not in any danger of being so stressed that I would leave abruptly. No one is forcing me out. I still have a lot of energy for ministry, still have growing edges, and am learning new things. But last Easter marked twenty-five years of pastoral ministry with my congregation. That’s a milestone, representing significant, solid ministry that gives me a sense of completion.
4. Good Timing for the Church
Just as this seems like good timing for me, I also have confidence that this is good timing for the church. Of course there are challenges—there always are in the life of any congregation–but the church has other capable staff, an engaged membership that includes people who preach, teach, serve on committees, and exercise their gifts in many ways, good leadership from our council and deacons. A transitional pastor search committee is at work. I sense there is energy for the search and visioning for the future.
5. Agreement as a Couple
My husband and I have always practiced mutual decision-making in major decisions. When we moved to the United States for his studies and then back to British Columbia for teaching, when I was first called into pastoral ministry and now as I sense God’s Spirit blowing in a new direction, we have agreed together as a couple.
Going forward, we know there are many questions. Will you move out of Abbotsford? people ask. If you stay here, will you remain part of the church? If not, what church will you go to? Will you at least come back to do a wedding or funeral? I’ll share some thoughts on these questions in a future post, but in these too, we look for agreement together.
6. Discernment with Others
As my conviction grew, I shared my thoughts with other family members, key leaders in the church, with our full deacon group, church council, staff, and finally with the congregation. The day after, I started receiving emails from others within our denomination and sister churches. Such news travels fast!
Some expressed shock or sadness. There have already been some tears. But no one among our friends or family, church leadership, congregation, or denomination has seriously tried to talk me out of leaving. There’s been a healthy respect and affirmation. Another church has already inquired if I’m looking for a new lead pastor position. A parachurch organization has already invited me to lead a retreat next spring, which wouldn’t have easily fit if I were continuing in my present role.
All of the above have been matters of deep reflection and prayer, and I continue to pray as things continue to unfold.
Have you worked for the church or other Christian ministry and then left?
How did you know it was time to say goodbye?
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