There is a commercial on cable from Principal (a financial company) that strikes a chord with me every time that I see it. The main character is called into a meeting with human resources that becomes “the worst 19 minutes” of her career. She is let go, and she is forced to journey to an unexpected and a not entirely desirable place to find her new place in the work world.
On February 17, 2016, my 19 minutes occurred in my ministry setting after a prolonged time of things-are-not-as-they-should-be. I heard the 8 words that are familiar to many when the end is nigh: “I think we need to make a change.” I agreed. Within my 19 minutes, the business side of the path in front of me was executed, assurances of a smooth transition were made, and I stepped down as the youth director.
I was left with nothing to which I could cling to say that I was fulfilling my call to ministry in any way. If my ministry had been a burden, I could have found freedom in the turn of events, but given my need to be of use, to contribute to the fulfillment of the Kingdom (to use some church-speak), being without purpose — even for this introvert — was a lot more empty than I wanted.
“National statistics indicate that the average term a youth pastor stays at a church is 18 months.” (1)
The busy-ness of my life during the time in which I was privileged to serve as youth director was staggering. Often, people would tell me some variation of “I don’t know how you do it.” A seminary friend once told me that she used me as an example to persons in her classes who whined about how busy they were. I know this guy … and she would list the ways in which I was burning the candle at both ends. One can only overextend for so long, and I did it for 6 years of half-time seminary, plus an additional 2-1/2 years of church work.
By the numbers, I did pretty well. I was in the position as a seminary intern and as a staff member after graduation for a total of 42 months, when the long-held statistic is 18 months. However, I’m not going to pat myself on the back for going double-and-a-bit-more over the statistical average. It isn’t how long you do it, but whether you are effective in the relationship building/maintenance, the instructional work, and the pastoral care aspects of the work.
I wasn’t expecting to and did not want to leave the role. It hurt to accept that change was required (2), and it continued to hurt after the change was made. 2 months later, after answering “fine” each time I was asked how I was doing, when inside I wasn’t feeling “fine” at all, I’m starting to feel less adrift and less alone (4).
“Human beings are always assigning to themselves some kind of identity. There are only two places to look. Either you will be getting your identity vertically, from who you are in Christ, or you will be shopping for it horizontally in the situations, experiences, and relationships of your daily life … My faith had become a professional calling. It had become my job.” (5)
I don’t know what I want to be “when I grow up,” except that I feel the need to be in ministry in some way as strong now as I did years ago. Without a clear path forward in ministry (6) and the disappointments of ending my candidacy for ordination (2012) and the end of my youth role, I’m a little bit in identity limbo. While I can say that the core of my identity is anchored in my relationship with the Divine, not a title or a position, I still want to live out being set apart for ministry somehow, someday.
The church where I served is also the church to which I am now a member (3), and it is is full of good people doing good things. I am taking steps to find other ways to live out my call to serve God and God’s people, for my sense of call did not perish with my staff role. The trick will be to find things to do which are less impacted by the demands of full-time employment and family commitments than was my former role.
The woman in the Principal commercial moves a long distance, dragging her kids with her. They don’t like change, but it all works out in the span of a 30 second commercial.
My journey is not done, and plenty of affirmations have come my way over the past 2 months. Expressions of thanks. True care. Folks saying they look forward to what is next. I appreciate every person who reached out — especially some youth who did so. The new normal is coming. It just takes more than 30 seconds.
(2) My career job commitments, including significant/frequent business travel, made it impossible to do everything I needed to do as well as I needed to do it — I fully admit and accept this. There were also, at the end, anonymous complaints about the program for which there was no way to engage the principals and work through.
(3) I and my family joined a few weeks after I stepped down. It is a good place.
(4) Not fishing for sympathy. This is how it feels when one is grieving the loss of purpose that comes along with job/role loss. Keep a stiff upper lip and carry on outwardly; wrestle with the feels inwardly.
(5) Tripp, Paul David (2012-10-31). Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (p. 22). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
(6) My senior pastor suggested doing something in adult education, which I would love to do, but has not gelled yet. A good lunch conversation was had on some ideas. The AV team has asked me to assist in their work on a rotating basis. We’ll see what sticks. Once I start helping, I’ll start to feel like I’m reaching my ‘new normal.’