I can’t believe it…
I’ll never be able to recover…
In all my years of working with church planters and other ministers, these words still break my heart like no other. I have cried with and for them, and I have worked through the pain that follows. Many of these people feel called to lead or pastor, and for reasons unbeknownst to them at the time, they are closing their churches or having to leave ministry. As a counselor, I try to help them through the whirlwind of emotions and thoughts.
Maybe this is you, and you simply don’t know what to do next. You know that you must keep praying, looking to God, and all the spiritual things. However, there are some other practical elements that need to be implemented. Here’s what I would implore you to do:
Recognize your thoughts are normal.
Leaving the ministry either by choice or circumstances will usually be accompanied by a feeling of failure, which will have grief-like similarities. These feelings do not make you crazy or abnormal; they make you absolutely normal.
Take time to decompress.
It is safe to assume that this has been building for some time, and your mind and heart are wrecked. Many times I see people try to just “push through” and never take time to heal. As a result, they enter the next phase of their lives while still hurting. Taking a specific time off will allow your mind to clear, and your heart to begin to regain wholeness.
This is one that I cannot stress enough. Many pastors are wired to help others, which can lead to a push-back against getting help themselves. I would advise two avenues of counsel. One would be a close friend who is honest enough to tell you the truth through a filter of unconditional love. You will need a close friend now more than ever. The second is professional help. There are plenty of trained Christian counselors out there who can help get you to a stable emotional place. Please do not let geographical boundaries inhibit this. Many counselors, such as myself, use technology like Skype to help from many miles away.
Don’t give up.
There will be a moment where you think you will never be used again. There will be a moment where you feel disqualified from ministry life. There could even be moments where you question your own faith. While I understand these are part of the healing process, you cannot allow yourself to get stuck in them, believe them, or allow your life to be dictated by them. The Bible is full of illustrations where great people had bad moments, moments that made no sense, and moments they didn’t deserve. I am not sure which of these apply to you, but I do know the author of restoration and redemption, and this is the God who can bring you back.
Failure is part of life. You will not find a great leader who has not had to experience different levels of defeat. But through it all, with the right steps, you will be back at a different level with a newfound experience… and one you might have to use to help someone else.