I Resigned as Pastor: Personal Reflections and Congregational Encouragements
In October 2016, I was asked to resign the church I’d pastored for seven years. Though my resignation was the result of theological differences and not any type of moral failure, it was still the most difficult experience of my life. But, as God has promised to do, he’s used this experience for my good and His glory. I’m not yet ready to say I’m glad it happened, but I’m more than ready to say that I’m so thankful for all that God has shown me through this season of life. In this article, I’ll try to share some of those lessons, both for my fellow ministers who are walking a similar path and for the churches that welcome these families into their fellowship.
To my fellow ministers, my heart goes out to you. I know the fear, the uncertainty, and the shame you’re facing. My goal is not to sugar coat your experience or to suggest that since I’ve been through something similar I know exactly how you feel. I don’t. But, I do know how God has shown His goodness to me through this season in so many ways.
How has God shown His goodness to me in this season?
By deepening my faith. I’ve discovered first hand that it’s far easier to preach about living by faith than it is to actually live by faith. As pastors and preachers, we’re quick to tell others how they should live—and that’s certainly a part of proclaiming the Word. But, God has shown His grace to me through this time by allowing me to experience personally so much of what I spent years teaching but not living. I don’t mean that I was a hypocrite; rather, that I was so comfortable I didn’t realize I was sort of on cruise control. This season has been a season of refining for me, and I’m so grateful to God for His continued work!
By strengthening family ties. It’s been such a joy to see God work in my children’s lives during this season. In all the uncertainty and anxiety that we faced, He brought us closer together as a family and brought them along in their spiritual journeys. Additionally, my relationship with my wife has gotten stronger and deeper than ever before. Kelly was an unwavering rock for me. I appreciate her more now than I ever did before.
By providing for our needs. I didn’t know what I was going to do for a job, but I haven’t missed a day of work. I didn’t know where we would live, but that was taken care of as well. Our church graciously let us stay in the parsonage until the end of the school year. They didn’t have to do that and I’ll be forever thankful for their generosity to my family and this amazing act of kindness they showed us.
I could write an entire article about how God has met our needs, but my point is that He has been exceedingly faithful to us.
Fellow Minister, if you find yourself in a similar situation, I’d encourage you with this advice.
Leave well. This is obviously only possible if you’ve not yet left your place of service. As it became increasingly obvious that my time as pastor was drawing to a close, I reached out to several trusted friends for advice. Maybe the most powerful piece of advice I received was from a friend who reminded me, “This is your last chance to shepherd them. Leave well.” I tried to follow his advice, and I’d urge you to do the same. Don’t go out with guns blazing and decide that’s when you’re settling old scores and telling everyone what you really think. No, leave well.
Be honest about your struggles. Don’t try to handle all this stress and anxiety on your own. You’re not strong enough and God didn’t design you to be. Tell others when you’re struggling and allow them to minister to you.
Don’t be bitter. It’s easy to blame others when things go wrong. It’s much harder to try and find the kernel of truth in critical words. But, it’s usually there. One of the hardest lessons you’ll learn is that it’s probably not all the church’s fault. Learn from this experience and refuse to be bitter.
Finally, how can churches care for/minister to those who have resigned or who have been terminated from their places of service?
Welcome them. One of the greatest blessings God has given our family is a new church home. What makes it so great is that there was a time I wondered if I’d ever be welcomed in a church again. I’d been asked to resign. Surely that means I was a failure, right? Surely other churches wouldn’t want anything to do with a guy who’d been asked to resign because he’s probably just going to stir up trouble, right? While none of that is true, those are some of the very fears I fought as we began looking for a new place to worship and serve. I will forever be grateful to my pastor, Craig Seals, for reaching out to me and inviting me to Park Hill Baptist Church in Arkadelphia. His invitation was simple; “You and your family are welcome to worship with us at Park Hill.” I grew up in church and never knew a time when I wasn’t a part of a church family. After I resigned, I wondered if I’d ever know that joy again. Craig’s words were so needed and so appreciated.
Love them. I don’t mean they should be singled out for special attention. I simply mean that if a minister and his family begin attending your church, be mindful that they’re probably hurting and afraid. There are so much uncertainty and anxiety in their hearts that a kind word would go further than you could imagine possible.
Help them find a place to serve. When Kelly and I told the kids that I was resigning, we stressed to them that though we were leaving this church, we weren’t leaving the church. Jesus loves His church! He died for His church! He’s using His church to reach the world—you can’t overstate the importance of the church. We wanted to be sure our kids saw that and the only way we knew how was to find a place to serve and plugin. Kelly and I currently serve on the Praise Team and lead a student discussion group on Wednesday Nights. I serve on the Mission Team, working with the staff to plan outreach events and get the gospel into our community. I lead a Life Group that meets on Tuesday nights, and I recently began serving as a deacon. This is as fulfilling a time of ministry as I’ve ever known, and it’s because our church family welcomed us and helped us plug into the life of the church.
One of the great joys in serving our God is His promise that all things work together for good. Those aren’t just sentimental words, they are rock solid truths on which we can rest our weight. My prayer for those reading this is that you’ll cling to Him, rest in Him, and find your lasting joy and satisfaction in Him.