Transitioning Well in Ministry

Luke 5:1-11, Mark 1:16-20 and Matthew 4:18-22 all point to the Gospel story of Jesus calling the Disciples. I marvel at these stories because all three of them end with the sentence: “Immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.” The scripture doesn’t tell of Disciples struggling with this invitation from Jesus or discerning what is right or best for them to do for their families. It doesn’t tell us that they were completely dissatisfied with their lives as fishermen, it just says, “And he said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” A straight forward and simple invitation to leave everything that they knew, everything they understood to be normal and follow the great Teacher, Prophet, Rabbi of their time. I imagine this being the most radical transition anyone has ever faced in the history of ministry.

The way we experience transitions today is not as simple as it was presented in the scriptures. Most leaders, even appointed leaders in the church struggle, discern and pray about the transitions they must face in ministry. Some transitions are a part of the covenant that clergy leaders have made, promising to “Go where they are sent.” Some transitions are a part of discerning and understanding a person’s individual call to ministry. Some transitions are forced and unexpected, while other transitions are welcomed as a means to escape.

Whatever the transition may be, in ministry (especially youth ministry) we have a responsibility to transition well for the sake of the youth and God’s people in the church.

For me, the transition to pursue the PhD was in response to God’s call in my life. I have always felt called to research, teach and discover what God wants the church to be doing in our world today. My focus has been adolescent faith development and the more involved I became in local church youth ministry, the more I was convinced that the mainline denominational church’s are missing the boat. It was also becoming clear that I needed to respond to the call Jesus was offering me today, rather than waiting and waiting until the time is just right.

Despite the fact that I absolutely loved and adored the congregation that I was serving and would have been content continuing to serve as the Minister of Families with Youth, Christ was calling and it was a “drop your nets and go,” kind of moment. Now, explaining the fact that you have to leave to people you love isn’t an easy task. But, focusing on God’s call should always be the priority.

Here are a few things that I have learned in transitions:

  • Be clear that your decision is based on faithfulness to God.
  • Don’t make this about you, make this all about God.
  • Remind God’s people that God is always present, no matter who comes next.

God is with them! God will not forsake them, nor will God abandon them, even when you leave. God is with them! (PS – Ministry really isn’t about you! It’s about God, so trust that God can do great things through others, too.)

  • Have faith that God will provide. Do all in your power to be kind, loving and generous to all those around you, even the leadership of the church, no matter what the circumstance of your transition. (Friends, it doesn’t help to smear the names of the leaders in the church or discredit them. Remember, they still have to stay and lead the people. You are not helping ministry if you make their lives miserable after you leave.)
  • Celebrate what God has done through your faithfulness. Allow the congregation to celebrate the fruits of God’s ministries through you, too. (It’s always good to end in honor and recognition of God. So, celebrate!! God is always good!)

Too often we believe that it’s all about us and what WE are doing in ministry that is great. But, if we believe in the power, authority and faithfulness of the Divine, then it has nothing to do with our efforts, but everything to do with God’s grace.

We do what we do in ministry, because God is gracious, God is loving and God has equipped us through the power of the Holy Spirit. If we hold on to that, then we, too, can drop everything in a moments notice and follow Jesus.

Amy Valdez Barker is a long time youth minister from the North Georgia Conference. Soon to be PhD student at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary working with the Vital Congregations Project.

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