Eighteen months ago I stepped down from the church I planted and led as pastor for 30 years. Since then numerous people have asked me how I am doing. Here’s my response: I’m doing well and I believe I made the right decision, but it still hurts.
Our elders and I planned and carried out the transition over the period of about three years. I knew leaving the place, the people, and the wonderful privilege of doing what I was doing—all of which I loved so much–would be a loss to me. I just didn’t know then how big a loss it would be.
I read something yesterday that gave me some insight into my loss. The authors suggested that being a pastor is a role in which many place their entire identity in the job; and when they let go they feel they have lost their identity. I suspect that partially explains the loss I felt but it’s about much more than my identity.
Early in the last 12 months of my ministry I read a book entitled A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser. It’s about the tragic experience of the deaths of his wife, mother, and daughter in a car accident. My loss in leaving Discovery Christian Church pales in comparison to his loss, but his book was a great help. Inside the front cover I wrote “reread chapter 6—good for any loss.”
In the preface to the first edition of his book Sittser wisely observes “Sooner or later all people suffer loss, in little doses or big ones, suddenly or over time, privately or in public settings. Loss is as much a normal part of life as birth.”
Is there anyone who will read this post who has not experienced loss? I distinctly remember the loss I felt both the night I graduated from high school and the afternoon I graduated from college. I remember the loss I felt when I left Bridgetown Church of Christ as youth minister and when I left Delaware Valley Church of Christ as minister. When I think back on those times of loss I still feel some sadness even though I had something new just ahead.
During our almost 42 years of our marriage Jan and I have had three dogs we loved and love who were all an important part of our family, two of which have died. Readers who have had beloved pets know the pain of losing one.
One of the greatest losses we experience is the death of a loved one. At the age of 65 I have lost numerous relatives including both my parents as well many friends who meant much to me. During my years as a local church pastor I led many funeral and memorial services and shared the grief of those left behind. One thing I often said to a surviving spouse that I hope became helpful was “You’ll never get over this. With the passing of time you will adjust, but you will never get over your loss.”
In the preface of his book Sittser suggests it is not “the experience of loss that becomes the defining moment of our lives” but “how we respond to loss that matters.” Like I used to tell surviving spouses, Sittser says his “book is not intended to help anyone get over” their loss. His “aim is not to provide quick and painless solutions, but to point the way to a lifelong journey of growth.”
It hasn’t been easy, but I think I have grown through every loss I have experienced so far. And I know I will experience more losses in the years ahead. How I respond has been and will continue to be what matters. But even though I have grown through my losses, including my stepping down from Discovery, it still hurts.
If you think others would appreciate these thoughts share them on social media. And feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email (bobmmink.com).
Photo courtesy of the boy’s mother, my daughter.
I appreciate your transparency. I can only imagine how difficult and challenging this past 18 months have been for you. How true that we never get over the pain of loss but we can and do get through it. I find those words to be so helpful in my own life and personal experience with loss.
The church body at Discovery also experienced a great loss as you stepped down from your role as Sr. Pastor. I think I speak for many when I say even though we know you and the elders prayed and believed the timing was right and Dan was and is the man that God called to lead us during this season it hurt and sometimes still hurts that you (and Jan) are no longer an active part of Discovery. It is a loss that we will never “get over” but with time and confidence in God’s plan for our church, we are moving forward.
Thank you Diane for your kind words.
I know stepping down was a hard but necessary decision for you and the church. I’m sorry for that loss you have and are experiencing. We love and miss you still too!!
I know. Event though I love what I am doing and am amazed at all God is doing in my new ministry, when I talk about the church I was at for 17 years, I choke up. You and I attach. It makes these transitions tougher. That’s who we are and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Making the decision to step down probably took some deep thinking and many, many prayers. However, the stepping down process and leaving the church had to be hard, but the aftermath must be so painful since you did not retire from a ” job” but from a life time of ministry.To be honest, when I first found out that you step down I was really angry,how dare you step down,I almost felt abandoned, until my older son talked some sense into me.I think some of us went through a grieving process because we were hurting and still do at times. As with any loss you have to pick up and carry on but things are not the same. I figured you would miss Discovery but it saddens me to hear that you still hurt.
Bob….I love you and want you to know…the feeling of loss that you now have can only be felt by others in your shoes…..I cried all the way from Tulsa, OK…. to Portland, Oregon when we left one congregation for another one……and yet….I knew without a doubt, it was God’s plan that Ragon and I go to Portland…..and then, when we left Oregon to come to Calif….once again….a part of me was still left at Central Christian Church in Oregon……so hard to explain…..but, you know what I am saying…….I have promised so many of our “Church Members/family” that when we get to heaven…..”we would find a spot by ourselves…..and once again remember those glorious times and say….how much we love one another”….Do you have any idea how rare it is to get to experience this? I tell my grandsons, (that you influenced so for ministry) they were getting to do the most wonderful earthly “job” there is……Each place we go and leave a piece of ourselves….breaks our hearts but, that only makes it grow bigger…..It would be such a blessing to me….if you would consider coming by for lunch one day and we could share our stories…..that ONLY those who help led people to know the Lord can experience…….again….I love you and Jan and your family…..we have a very special connection……Mom Flannery….
Thank you my friend, I know you understand.
Bob you write very well and I appreciate your thoughts on stepping down. Having served as an associate for eight years, I still miss the family left behind and yes, it still hurts. Nowhere near 30 years but long enough to know that your words are spot on…we don’t get over the loss but by the grace of our Father, we adjust. Thank you for blessing my life and family–Discovery made a tremendous impact on all of us and we are grateful for your leadership and effort.
Love you Brother,
P.S. I quoted Sittser’s book in several funerals and it never failed to bless the grieving.
You honor with your words Dale.
Wow I can also relate because it has taken me quite a while to get over your leaving too. But I do know you made The right decision. Still I don’t like big changes like that. Never have however I trust Jesus knows what he’s doing as always and I feel like i can go forward completely plugged in again to our church and it will always be our church because you and Jan will always be part of it!!♡♡♡
I for one am thankful that even though you are no longer the Pastor at Discovery we will always be one family in Christ. We are truly blessed to have learned and still learn from you as a brother and teacher. Thank you for always being willing to share the God given gift you have for knowing not just the Bible but knowing Him and His word as you do. This was a good read. Were your ears ringing this morning? I have a Bible study I attend on Wednesday’s. I was talking about you and your Jan. I mentioned how humble you are in regards to your education and your knowledge of the word. There were other things too but I can’t tell you all of it…you may not be humble anymore after that…LOL. I also brought up when you had said, “There may be people who don’t like me, but you had never met anyone who didn’t like your wife.” I happen to like you both…but was using it as an example of you loving Jan. Hugs to you both!
PS..I’m sorry it still hurts, I know it does us too!
Thanks Linda for your kind and affirming words. You honor Jan and me both!
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