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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Ask the Matriarch: Time to Grow

Sorry I'm late, gang! I spent the past hour on the phone with David Allen, the author of the RevGal-blessed book Getting Things Done, and he really appreciates the feedback that so many of you have been helped by his book. I'll be sure to bring some of the points he touched on back to you once I have a chance to go through the interview. Good stuff.

On to this week's question!

I've been serving a small church for several years, and it seems the time to go is probably not too far in the future. On my side, I'm pretty sure I feel God nudging me to go elsewhere. On theirs, it has become clear that the church really cannot support a fulltime clergyperson. But because I am reluctant to move my family, I've been hedging about looking seriously for the next call.

Now we are reaching a point where push may come to shove, and the financial needs may come to a crisis before *I* am ready to go. If that proves to be the case, I want to go graciously and not make the church members feel worse than they need to feel. But I also don't want to be so concerned about them that I don't look after my own interests.

Do you have any advice about the way you lead up to leaving? *Is* it possible to bolster those you leave behind while watching out for yourself at the same time?

~Growing by Going

Ooh, I hear ya. I've been discerning a stirring as well, wanting to grow, and not sure if that desire for personal growth might trump the people with whom I work. So I've been tidying up my resume, keeping my eyes open, and when something really stirs me to do so, I put my name on the table. Lo and behold if Abi didn't echo this nearly verbatim: "When I served as a Chaplain, our Boss encouraged to keep our resume fresh, keep our options open, and not to be afraid to interview for positions."

It's really difficult to pack up and move when you have a family involved. My son went through four school changes in 18 months when I made a professional and personal decision to move to Virginia, and the move didn't go smoothly. The reason he lives with his dad right now is that I still don't have a permanent home and he's stable for the next couple of years, at least. That stability is so important to our kids, and I hate the fact that my choice to move a couple of years ago has cost me that stability. At the same time, I'm stuck in my current location until he's out of high school because I don't want to be toooooo far away. Ugh. So I understand a lot of that.

Trust your instincts
I had this conversation with someone earlier today when I discovered I had an instinct that she had just confirmed. But both Jan and Abi agree: If you sense it is time to move on, then it's likely a nudge from God—explore it! "I would encourage you to not wait until it is too late," says Abi. "Put yourself in a proactive stance." Jan agrees, saying, "This can take a while, so get started now. Get that resume out there and start searching! Sounds like God is calling you."

Meeting both needs
"Yes, I think you can encourage them and take care yourself as well," says Abi. "Celebrate their strengths, their accomplishments, their pluses. Encourage them that they will be okay, because they are serving God and God is watching out over them. They are not going through this alone. God has given them gifts and graces."

In the meantime, continue to pray, discern, talk to your trusted centers. Abi suggests that you try writing a letter to God as a form of prayer, releasing the congregation to God.

And here are Jan's additional insights on the small-church equation:
Dear Gracious One,
Small, can-barely-afford-a-pastor congregations tend to have a low self-image, and so I see your concern. You love them. You want to encourage them. But you need to search for a new call. Your small church will be fine. Maybe they need a new call also—to become several house churches? Yoked with a neighboring congregation?

Just as The Church of Jesus Christ in general is realizing the need to change paradigms (from 1950s to a 1st century/21st century blend perhaps), your small church might need for you to leave before they realize how seriously they need to change.

Now, one of the pratfalls of our being anonymous here is that we don't know all the variables involved in why they can't afford a full-time pastor, whether demographics are changing, Jan notes. "Are they stuck in patterns that keep them from growing? Or are they happy being 'small' albeit 'poor'?" she writes. It isn't that these really change or influence the answer to the question so much as they are things you may want to consider in how you make the transtion.

Speaking of transitions
This is a transition! To Abi's list of helpful web links.

East Ohio UMC Conference has a Move Pack (pdf) that you may find helpful in this preparation time.

From the Presbyterian Church:
Separation Ethics: When Pastor and Congregation Say Good-bye (pdf, 2003)
Separation Ethics: When Pastor and Congregation Say Good-bye (pdf, 2004)

From the Illinois Baptist State Association:
How to Say Goodbye (pdf)

From Christianity Today's Leadership Journal:
When It's Time to Leave

Other (NonRevGalBlogPal) Bloggers in the Boat, spotted in the wild (and your mileage may vary, as these are male-centric posts):
Expository Thoughts

To all of us feeling the stirring of restlessness in our hearts, I offer up a prayer that God will help us find our path if we don't know it, and guide our steps upon it once we do. Amen!


  1. Oh-my-goodness! Did someone sneak a peek at my journal? Did I talk in my sleep during a nocturnal visit? I know I didn't send this question in, butI could have - word-for-word.

    Thank you for your responses and the links. I look forward to reading the wisdom of other readers who post comments.

    P.S. An interview with David Allen? Tell us more!

  2. This is such a thoughtful post(such is the consistency of the matriarchs!)and I appreciated it so much even though Spouse and I are not on the move this year. I just wanted to say thank you in advance. I know we'll come back to these thoughts in months or years to come.

    No fair name dropping David Allen! You must post about him immediately! Can you get him to do an online chat with the whole RevGal ring? I'm such a groupie. :)

  3. THis is the question I was going to send in (although the financial part, not so much -- more family issues and personal growth)!


  4. Helen,
    As usual, what a great job putting this together in a readable, helpful post. Prayers for those who are discerning God's call for them.

    I'm Methodist, and yes you can decide it is time to move, but it may not happen. And you may not decide to move and they move you anyway.

  5. A caveat--the bloggers linked at the end of the post are not ring members, and their exclusively masculine references to clergy do not reflect (I hope this is obvious) the purposes of the RevGalBlogPals webring. While there may be principles to extrapolate even from non-inclusive writings, I am fairly sure that listening to my wife will not be the answer to any call questions I may have! ;-)

  6. SB: Disclaimer added. But goodness gracious, if I could talk in public about the things going on in my life and DFH's with regard to career and vocation, all I can say is, I'm glad we're a team.

  7. To all,
    I offered the last two as s suggestion of persons who blogged about their trying to discern staying or leaving. I don't know that I meant to say they have the answer, and perhaps that should have been written that way. That was my mistake I wrote the part on the possible links late at night. I suggested them as persons who also were wondering about going or staying. Yes they are from a male perspective and reference male clergy exclusively so take them with a grain of salt. But it more had to do with the struggle than the male exclusion. Sorry about that. I did try to find some that did not, and could not find any.
    If this doesn't belong, then just take them out. So now there is a post that takes an open view for all.

    But I will say with the moves I have made Bob and I have talked them over, but we have tried to listen to and hear God's call. I know quite a few clergy who do make decisions based on their spouses needs.


  8. I'm four days away from my last Sunday at my former church. The only way I could come to terms with the hurt I was inflicting by saying goodbye was to actually trust God to take care of them and me and to say goodbye with intentionality and honesty. Damn, it's hard work -- particularly the trusting part.


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  10. Once again AtM gives us a great place to start. Thank you all!

    There are also some great transition resources available from The Alban Institute.

    Good point, SB - I was a bit taken aback when I hit those links before the edit. No need to apologize Abi, but I do appreciate your edits. Sometimes I just get tired of the assumption that clergy = male (and I know you do too).

  11. Enjoyed reading the AtM and your comments.

    Gallycat, thanks for your good work here. Abi, thanks for your contributions.

    I appreciate the comments related to intentional language.

  12. Also don't forget to thank Jan! Her comments were a little further down in the post, but she's also a great helper with AtM. :D

  13. book! what book? first I've heard of it .... sounds fabulous though!

  14. The good news part of the pastoring job is the trusting, grace-filled way that our brothers and sisters (even the grumpy ones) allow us to share many of the most profound moments of their lives. The bad news part of the pastoring job is the trusting, grace-filled way that our brothers and sisters allows us to share the most profound moments of their lives. Because when the time comes to move on (for our sakes and for the sake of the proclamation of the gospel) we are leaving members of our family behind - family members that our church rules prohibit us from continuing to include in our lives. That's very tough on everybody, but, I think, the price of being a faithful pastor and of being a supportive and loving member of the body of Christ. No doubt about it though. In this instance, love really does bite.

  15. Jan, a great job, I liked how you described the small church andhow they see themselves.

    WS you wrote "Sometimes I just get tired of the assumption that clergy = male (and I know you do too)." Yep, been there done that dance too many times, this and alot of other reasons are why I left the denomination that excluded women and others that didn't fit their mold.

    Thanks Pastor Nines for your additional thoughts. It was very painful to leave family behind after being with them 5 years. I really grieve missing them. And here I am already making myself part of this family that has opened their arms to welcome us.

  16. As to the piece about listening to our wives when we think about moving on, how many other female clergy would really, really, like to have a "wife?" Boy, do I get tired of the male/female stereotypes!

  17. I don't know, I could use a "wife" or a "domestic engineer". I have a wonderful husband, but he doesn't clean or see what I see.

    But yes I do get tired of the stereotypes. And I imagine some of the men hate them too.

  18. My future husband is my wife!!! We have so many traditional roles reversed it's kind of funny. Except for one: *my* marriage proposal "didn't count."

    Oh, make that two. I've got major mommy inclinations. although he at one point aspired to being a SAH dad.

  19. I came home this evening, late, from shopping with my beloved daughter who is being married in three weeks to a beloved future son-in-law (we were shopping for the trousseau - isn't that lovely!). And the world's nicest guy - hereafter referred to as twng - had scrubbed the kitchen floor and loaded the dishwasher. How great is that!?! I pray for my sisters in ministry who are not married to twng!

  20. twng wouldn't be for higher would he?

    That sounds great.


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