Lessons I learned in the backwash of being Fired by the Church.


I got fired from my dream job once. Well technically, I was “resigned.” If you’d been in ministry, you know how the all too familiar story goes, the details of my story are inconsequential. What’s important, is what I learned in failure’s wake. At the time, “getting resigned” was the most painful experience in my life to that point. I was hurt, defensive, disillusioned, disoriented… and I had to finish out the school year, 5 months away. It was brutal. For me, getting fired, even though I felt it was completely unjustified, taught me some valuable things.

1. Perspective is Everything

When I got resigned, it felt like it was the end of the world. Months later, I could see I was wrong. What looked like a really bad thing, in the rearview mirror, was actually God protecting me from a horrible chapter that was coming to that church. Even when it seems like God is not acting in our best interest, He is in fact, in that very moment, acting in our best interest. We just can’t see it yet.

2. I’m a Pastor whether I get paid for it or not

Getting fired, helped me discover that I was a Pastor whether or not I had a title or an office. I started to go to the same coffee shop every morning after I got resigned, and guess who became my congregation? You guessed it, the people in the coffee shop: the baristas, the owners, the customers. I naturally started to meet the needs of the people I came in contact with every day. I ministered to people I talked to. I prayed with some, counselled others. I even did a wedding for one of the baristas. I discovered  that I am a pastor because that’s what God wired me to do, not because I got paid to do it. My job no longer defined me. That was a fantastic discovery.

3. Getting fired humbled me a little.

It’s so easy to become arrogant in ministry, and it’s such a turn off. You get some success and you start to feel like it’s you.  You start to think you’re special. Your logical mind thinks “Sure, everyone is special, but I’m extra special because my ministry is growing more than everyone else I know.” That’s hogwash. It makes me wanna throw up. I can’t stand it now when I see guys in the pulpit who are full of themselves. Get fired and you’ll see. Ministry will go on without you. Yes God chooses to use you. But He could choose anyone. God allows us a front row seat for a time. It’s such a privilege to get to play a small part in eternal things. Don’t take it for granted. It may stop some day. And you know God can’t stomach arrogance either. (James 4:5-7)

4.  Some things you only learn through failure.

Failure can be a great teacher if you allow it to be. When I coached Jr. Tackle football, I remember during our practices, trying to get my son, who played cornerback, to make his first step backward on the snap. He was aggressive and very quick, and he wouldn’t listen. I warned him he would get burned someday. During our next game, it happened. A lightening fast receiver sprinted by him and wide open, caught a pass for a touchdown. My son came over to the sideline, head down, knowing he had failed, and was finally ready to receive instruction. I didn’t even need to say it. Failure was the teacher he needed to learn his lesson.  He never repeated that mistake again. He had learned his lesson through failure. In fact, I believe, there are some lessons we only learn through failure.

Lastly, remember, regardless of the human reasons that you “got resigned,” God’s hand is in it, guiding and directing you.

You can’t see it now. But it’s true. You will likely look back someday at this situation and think, “God’s hand was in this,” and “good stuff came out this super painful time.” I hope that encourages you. This doesn’t have to be fatal. God can redeem any pain for his glory. And He will, if you are faithful to go through the healing process.

I get a good laugh when I remember back to when the pastor who “resigned” me said I was too old for youth ministry. 14 years later, I’m still in Youth Ministry. Thank God I didn’t let anyone else’s word for me, define my calling.

Don’t let this define you. Get up. Brush off the dust, and keep going. You’re going to be fine. I remember an old youth pastor once told me, “you’re no one till you’ve been fired.” Welcome to the club my friend. You are not alone!

~Mark

Related post Youth Worker – You’re going to get fired someday. 

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Youth Worker – You’re going to get fired someday.


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Or they’ll ask you to resign, or something like that. Maybe it will be your fault, maybe not. Most likely it won’t be over one big glaring mistake. And most likely there will be the public story and then there will be the story behind the story. Or maybe not, but people will wonder… “what’s the real reason?” I’ve had several friends lose their ministry jobs this month. Some ended well, some didn’t. Over the past 28 years of youth ministry, I’ve watched a lot of people come and go, and one thing I’ve learned; your job will end someday, and it’s rare when it ends well. The question is: How will you handle it, and what will you do when it does end? I remember when I got fired from my dream job. I had built a youth ministry from scratch at a megachurch.

The new Sr. Pastor took my wife and I out for breakfast one Saturday and out of left field told me I was finished. He used words like “unqualified, ineffective, too old.” I was shell-shocked. Blind-sided.

We’d been there 5 years and had seen phenomenal numerical growth and lots of transformational life change. It made no sense. He would let me resign, but I couldn’t tell anyone for 3 months and I needed to finish out the school year. It was brutal. Years later the man took me out for coffee and apologized, and said he was wrong for firing me. It’s been 14 years, and while I’ve long been over it, I remember it like it was yesterday.

Why does getting fired from a ministry job hurt so much?

Very few jobs are so intimately connected to your heart like a ministry job. Not only does getting fired make you question your work ethic and the quality of your work, but a ministry job is all tied up with your heart and your dreams, even your very relationship with Christ. We pray, we cry, we dream, we plan, we risk, we put everything we have into it. Like the Apostle Paul  we have “poured out our life as a drink offering.” So when it all goes south, its very difficult not to take it personally and feel like we are a failure as well.

As if that wasn’t enough, often times many of your closest friendships are in the church, for both you and your family, and there’s a tearing away, almost like a divorce, as friends decide if they will keep you in their lives or move on.

And then there’s that feeling of betrayal from the leadership, of promises broken, the disillusionment, the loss of innocence and idealism that you once had regarding the Church. At times those same feelings even bleed over into our relationship with God.

“I served you in this thankless job, and this is what I get?”

Here’s what I’d like to tell every Youth Worker to help you survive and to prepare for the day you get “resigned.”

Not to be too pessimistic, but if you go into ministry with correct expectations, it will be easier when you leave.

1. It’s part of the job.

If you’re going to be a pastor, youth pastor, worship leader, children’s pastor etc… getting fired comes with the territory. Like being a professional football coach or something, coaches come and go. You get your shot at building a successful program, but there comes a time when it needs to be someone else’s turn. Coaches usually get too much of the credit when a program wins, and too much of the blame when teams lose. Don’t take it personally. It’s part of the gig. It’s rare when the coach goes out on top to fanfare and celebration.

2. Take the high road. Always.

Don’t engage in finger pointing, in lashing out, in defending yourself. Don’t post something scathing online. Doing so never does what you hope it will, in fact, it does exactly the opposite. It diminishes you and your character. You are above that. Leave with class. If there’s judgement to be meted out, if there’s truth to be told, it’s not yours to deliver. Leave it to the sole Arbiter of Truth.

3. Learn the nugget of truth in your firing.

While the bulk of the reasons you got let go may not have merit, there is likely some core truth the Lord is trying to bring to your attention. It would be a huge mistake not to take full advantage of this teachable moment in your life. And when you’re good and ready, ask The Lord to show you what He’s trying to teach you. And if you can’t hear it from Him, ask your spouse or a really good friend!

4. Let the rest roll… like water off a duck’s back.

Take the core truth in, but let the rest of what’s being said bead up and roll off you. Do not absorb the rest of that polluted water into your being. Everything being said in this storm is not true or beneficial. Take the nugget and let the rest roll.

5. Refuse to get bitter.

Satan will lie to you and try to plant that bitter seed deep down in your soul where it will fester and grow. I did not want to be that guy who spat vile whenever the conversation touched that topic in the future. I refused to let Satan diminish the eternal work that was done while I was the youth pastor there. But refusing to get bitter is not a one time decision. Those bitter thoughts come daily, even hourly at first. Over and over you will have to make a conscious choice to not take in that bitter seed. Spit it out, every time. Lastly, don’t let it negatively impact your relationship with God or let it sour you on the local church. You work for Jesus, not for people. We are called to serve them whether they appreciate it or not. And in some sense, when you suffer pain at the hands of the Church, you are sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Like the Apostles, Luther, Bonhoeffer, Yaconelli… who all suffered abuse at the hands of the church. You are in good company.

Both of our sons have talked about going into full time ministry someday. They have had a front row seat to both the good and the bad in the church world. They’ve watched their dad have both success and failure, been treated well and mistreated. And they’ll serve anyway. And that’s my hope for you.

I know this. It always ends. And it very rarely ends well. Shake off the dust and serve anyway.

We are not looking for “Well done good and faithful” from their lips, but His.

~M

Related Post: “Lessons I learned in the backwash of being fired.”

I’m so tired – How long can I keep running like this?


Soulitude: A retreat for Youthworkers Apr 28-30, 2013

How are you really doing?  When I get a chance to ask a friend this question, it seems like more and more the answer is something like: “I’m good, busy, but good. I’m tired, really tired.” Whether you’re a mom or a student or a youth worker… western culture today is unreal. We are running ourselves ragged trying to do it all. The expectations that we place on ourselves can be overwhelming. Smartphones have made us accessible 24/7 and that’s both a wonderful thing and a horrible thing. I can respond to an urgent email or text right now, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. And on the other hand, now people expect me to. Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, are all fantastic to a point, but how much dissatisfaction is it creating in me because my life is not as good as everyone else’s seems to be?

We are so busy. Where is the margin in our lives? Where is the white space? It’s like our lives are a Middle School band on crack. Noise, noise, all the time, noise. Not to malign Middle School bands, but most have not yet learned to let the music breathe. From the first note to the last measure, every instrument seems to be in and running at full speed. Have you ever sat in the audience at a Middle School band concert and wanted to claw your eyes out? Why is it that a symphony can play the same piece of music, and it so beautifully gives life to the room, and to your soul?  Pauses, rests in the middle of the piece, let the music ebb and flow. Music’s life is found in it’s breathing. We are no different.

Have you forgotten how to breathe? When was the last time you took time to rest, really rest?

Rest and renewal is a principle that is found in all of life. The earth does it with it’s seasons. The calendar does it with weekends. Our muscles even need it to build strength: workout, rest, renewal. God tried to embed this in our culture from the dawn of Creation, literally, by creating the Sabbath. The Sabbath wasn’t for Him, as much as it was for us. He knew we needed to rest. I’m not promoting that you try to go all Old Testament here and do NOTHING one day a week. No cooking, no cleaning, nothing that even sniffs of effort… I’m not suggesting you do anything that radical.  But what would it look like to incorporate the Principle of Rest and Renewal into your life? What would that look like?

There are busy seasons in our lives, no question. When I worked harvest in the wheat fields of E. Washington, we’d work from sun up to sundown, 15 hours a day, 6 days a week, until the harvest was in. But you only did that for weeks at a time, not for months or years on end. 

If you are in a busy season, hang on. This too shall pass. If your busy seasons tend to go on indefinitely, then “Houston, we have a problem.” And it’s likely you. Maybe it’s your job, or your career field, but maybe the truth is that you kinda like running this fast! The question is: “How long can you run like this?” “Is this pace sustainable?” How long can you keep this up?

When I ran X-Country in High School, inevitably in every meet  there was a jackrabbit who would sprint as hard as he could right from the starter’s pistol, while he was in full view of the crowds. And every time, the pack would eventually catch up to him, a mile or less into the race, doubled over in pain, unable to continue.

Is this you? Are you running at a pace that is unsustainable? Is this a sprint or a marathon? Only you can decide which it’s going to be.  You cannot sprint forever. There is a price to be paid for your lifestyle. 

What is the real cost? Who’s paying it?

Is it your health? Your family? Your future? What is the real cost of your lack of boundaries?

Do your future self a favor and set aside a day, or an afternoon, in the next week or two, to rest and renew you soul. Do something that feeds you. Go for a walk in the woods, sit at the beach… read a book, sleep, breathe deeply. Turn off the world, just for a day or two, or even just for an hour or two. It’ll be there when you get back.

This is my 28th year of Youth Ministry. I decided a long time ago working with teenagers was going to be a marathon for me and not a sprint. If you are a youth worker, we have a Soul Care retreat you should come to. It’s called Soulitude. It’ll help. 

I know, you’re too busy, there’s no way you could take some time off right now. Sure, I get it.

If you don’t start now…. when? Put something on your calendar today… somewhere in the future, anywhere in the future. And STICK to it! Trust me, you need the rest.

~Mark

 

(Soulitude: A retreat for Youthworkers in the NW Apr 28-30, 2013)

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