What do I do now? I have a family to support. Should I stay just because I need a pay check? I don’t feel passionate about this anymore. Where will I work? Who will hire me? Oh, Lord, help me…

Have you ever been there—the fear of leaving occupational ministry because of security? The trepidation of the future can cause us to miss God’s true calling in our lives. Staying when you know you should be leaving might be the greatest challenge you face in ministry.

I left…not because I didn’t feel God’s call to minister to people, but rather because I knew God was closing a door. Sometimes we stay in ministry dur to fear—fear of not knowing what else to do. Leaving was the hardest thing I have ever done. I didn’t have a job, income or security. As a matter of fact, I questioned God, myself, my faith and ultimately all of my ideas about who I am.

As I drove down the road one day, I remember yelling at God: “God, why did I go to Bible college? What good is this now? Why did I spend so much time, energy and money? For what? To be unemployable? To have a resume that will not provide a job that I can survive on? God, I don’t know what to do!”

There are many challenges of transitioning from occupational ministry to a new career. The most prominent challenge is the not the, “What will I do next?” question. It is the emptiness that arises and the loss of identity. As pastors, we can get a false sense of importance that is derived from leadership roles. We find our personal value in our position. Our confidence, joy and identity is found in the personal attributes that we bring to an organization. As pastors, we are important to the lifeblood of the church…we are leaders, decision makers. This feeling of value is very hard to replace.

Starting a new career away from ministry often means starting from the bottom. You loose the sense of personal value within the organization. Your identity no longer is on the same plain, and the tension that arises in the spirit is very difficult to understand. The fear of this tension can be the driving factor of why so many pastors stay in occupational ministry longer than they are called or passionate about the ministry they lead.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you'” (Jeremiah 29:11).
I had to paste that verse on my forehead. When I transitioned out of occupational ministry, I had this ache in my soul—a loneliness that no one could understand unless he or she has been there. Repeatedly, I had to remind myself God’s plan for me was to prosper. I had to come to the realization that prospering looked different to me than it did to God. Prospering to me meant a job that would provide financially, as well as give me joy, a sense of importance and value to a new endeavor. Prospering to God meant eight months of unemployment, physical labor (I painted fire lanes on curbs during the summer months in Arizona. Hot. Surely felt like harm.) financial struggles, mild depression, searching. God’s emotional and physical economy is so different than ours.

God’s view of prospering brought me to a place in my soul that I always have been afraid examine. The haunting question: “Am I a follower of Christ because of my job as a pastor, or do I truly trust in Him?”

“Plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
The second part of that verse is what helped me through dark days—not the future part, but the HOPE part, hope that my value wasn’t so self-centered, hope for true trust in Him, hope that leaving was better than staying, hope that one day He would use me again for Him, not myself.

I know how hopelessness feels, and I suspect you do, too. If God’s Word is trustworthy, then rest in it. Rest in the idea that maybe God is calling you to deeper trust. Maybe He wants you, not what you do for Him.

All the details of what you need: food, money, job, etc., they all work out. What you do next concerning your career will work out. All the challenges associated with that will work out. I know it might now seem that way right now. Remember, He owns the cattle on a thousand hills; His streets are gold; and dresses the lilies. Don’t worry about what you will do or what job you will find. That’s not the point of why there is unrest in your soul. The unrest is about God calling you—all of you.

I have found a different relationship with God since leaving occupational ministry. I have found a faith that is more personal, not predicated by my job. I have found that serving again in a church is joyful and fun, believe it or not. That God still wants to use me and my value is in Him. I never would have found that if I had stayed! All the pain was worth it. All the tears, worth it. All the doubts, worth it.

Let me ask you one question if you find yourself where I was: Do you trust Him with you?

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