Being fired is devastating. In my own experience, though, there was a particular element that I’m not sure everyone would understand.
In that final meeting around my kitchen table, I was told I had two more weeks to preach; then I was done. I did the math in my head and realized that my first Sunday unemployed would be Easter. I said, “I need to be able to preach on Easter,” and was told that was impossible. The terms were already set.
I’m sure they didn’t get it. Getting fired was bad enough, but being told I would have no place to proclaim the resurrection on Easter morning was insulting and belittling. The very next year, the church my family was attending asked me to fill in and bring the message for Easter Sunday.
That church has an amazing understanding of grace.
In the previous post I focused on mistakes made on both sides. I would like to end with some positive focus.
What They Did Right
Twenty years is a long time to think about this. In the past twenty years, I’ve served with two other churches and various ministry boards. I’ve had to confront ministers one-on-one about their failings, and I’ve been called on by elders and others in leadership when problems with their ministers needed to be addressed. I preface this section this way to hopefully convince you and myself that I’m writing this with a lot of experience in conflict management and resolution and not writing this with a twenty-year-old raw nerve.
There is not a single thing they did right.
Maybe the question should be what could they have done. I would like to think if I were in a similar situation with a young minister who was not effectively serving the church I would do the following:
1. Address the issue before it got to the point of firing.
I will admit there were meetings, and I’m slightly hard-headed. I need things given to me in plain English. Instead, I was told, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” Yes, that is an exact quote. Down-homey movie catchphrases are no substitute for an honest appraisal of an issue.
2. Present a plan and issue ultimatums.
I’m not sure how I would have responded in my youth, but even if I responded poorly it would have been nice to know exactly what was expected of me. Offering some clear and measurable goals and saying, “We will revisit this in 90 days to see if there has been any improvement. If not, we will have to take action” is a much better choice than firing with two weeks’ notice. It gives both the minister and his critics a chance for an honest evaluation.
3. Have an honest and open discussion where it is clearly stated, “It’s time for you to look somewhere else and move on.”
Instead, I think the dysfunction was to the point that they were lying to themselves. In the midst of all our trouble, I had an interview with another church. It only made sense to explore some other options for my family and me. A short time after the interview, I decided to be open about it with one of the elders I considered a friend. He was appalled that I would even consider going somewhere else.
Looking back on it, I think in some way, they realized this was as much their failure as it was mine. They didn’t want to admit to it.
What I Did Right
These were difficult times for my young family and me. We were poor, out of our home, and out of our community. Nothing from those days feels right. Still, looking back, I see wisdom that was beyond anything I could realize at the time. For those who find themselves in similar circumstances, maybe this will help.
1. I took a break.
I wanted to be in ministry badly, but I felt like a man who was just divorced and rejected, deciding the very next week to “get out there and play the field.” I didn’t want to bring my hurt into another church. My wife wanted nothing to do with it either. It was a long time before I would ever be comfortable with leadership again.
So, I got a job at a lumberyard and sold building materials for about five years. I cannot recommend it. Still, I’m amazed at how much I learned during that time. It was also helpful to get experience on the other side of the pulpit. I worked long hours and knew the tension of not wanting to go to another church meeting because I was tired.
2. I had close friends in ministry who blessed me.
I truly feel for guys out there on their own, I can’t imagine how they survive. The best resource I have is the friendships I’ve built with other guys in the area. They counseled me, encouraged me, and eventually nurtured me back into ministry. After twenty years, they are still some of the most important friendships I have.
3. I learned to define ministry in new ways.
I knew better, but I had always seen full-time located ministry as the be-all/end-all for me. Over the next eight years, I would come to a new appreciation for the many different ministry roles available through the different opportunities that presented themselves.
Those close friends in ministry kept me busy when they needed someone to fill-in for them. Within a year, the church we were attending asked me to come on as a part-time associate. The truth is they didn’t need an associate–they were investing in me. In the next years, I would work part-time with national and international ministries. Then came the day when I was asked to step into a six-month interim ministry. That interim ministry turned into full-time work that has kept me busy for the past twelve years.
You’re Going to Be OK
I’ve been wondering what I would tell 1994 me if I could talk to him. He was beaten, felt like a failure, and lost everything except his wife, child, and his faith (and the faith was iffy). I really doubt he would listen to me while he sat in that lousy little apartment, wondering what went wrong.
But I would tell him that there were things that he did right. They didn’t seem like important things at the time, but those things he did right were the seeds that kept him growing and eventually producing a fruitful ministry.
“You going to be ok, kid.” That’s what I’d tell him.
And so are you.