Most of us in ministry will move several times during our careers and lifetimes. We will move from church to church, city to city, state to state and even country to country. It’s part of the territory and comes with the calling.
My husband and I are fortunate, having been a part of only three churches in our twenty years of marriage. We have lived in three cities, two states and four houses.
And with each move, I carried with me a set of expectations about what each new area of service would look like. I had expectations about my husband’s salary and benefits, about the culture of the church and surrounding area, about the kind of welcome we (I) should receive, about the ministries I would be involved in, about the kind of job I would get and about how God would use us when we arrived. I thought I knew how God would work.
And every time, with every move, I set myself up for disappointment.
Here are some of the lessons that I learned as we moved from one position of ministry to another.
Grieve for what you left behind.
By the grace of God, we have never been forced to leave a ministry position under negative circumstances. Although we have always been excited about the prospects of our new positions of service, I grieved what I lost. I missed the people in our churches, people who had become more than just church members, but who were (and are) dear friends and surrogate family.
I missed the cities where we lived, the restaurants and stores we frequented. I missed my houses. I missed the familiar and the known.
I learned that I need the time to grieve those losses. It’s okay to miss what we leave behind, as long as we don’t stay there. Give yourself grace and time to adjust to a new place of service. At the same time, don’t allow yourself to become so consumed with what you left that you miss what God is giving you where you are.
Take time to discover how God is working.
I had expectations for how God would use me in each new church. Those expectations had a lot to do with how I was serving in the churches we left. I reasoned that God had used me so well in this way over here, surely He would do the same thing over there.
I never stopped to consider that someone else might already be serving in that role in our new church.
A wiser move on my part would have been to take several months to a year and volunteer as needs arose that I could fill, but not plan on assuming any kind of leadership until God clearly showed me how He wanted to use me. This attitude takes humility, acknowledging that I am not the only person who can do certain things and knowing that God can and will use my gifts and talents as He sees fit.
It also allows for our church members to use their gifts freely, without any sense of competition from us.
Look outside the box.
At our current church, many of my friendships and areas of service look nothing like I envisioned when God brought us here more than nine years ago. I had “plans” – plans for the way people would respond to me and my gifts, plans for the types of relationships we would have, plans for the ways God would use me. And God has reminded me again and again that the plans are His, not mine. I have been humbled several times because I tried to act where God was not moving.
God has stretched me and grown me. I have many good friends who are not in my age bracket – they are both younger and older. I have served in areas that I do not feel are my greatest strengths, but are where God is asking me to serve. Other areas where I think I am stronger, He has removed from me, at least for now.
If you are struggling to find your place in a new area of service, may I suggest that this is my greatest lesson? Step back and allow God to show you where He would have you. If it looks entirely different than what you thought it would, perhaps He wants to grow you in a new area. He is refining you and sanctifying you, and, while the process can be painful, He is doing it for our good and His glory.
What lessons has God taught you during ministry moves?
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