Recently, as my wife and I were talking about this ministry, I expressed concern about connecting with those who find themselves adrift after being exited from ministry. In the course of that conversation, it occurred to both of us that one of the primary reasons for the difficulty in connecting might be that no one is looking for them! I have often confidently affirmed that every pastor who is currently serving knows at least one other pastor who has been exited. But, sadly, it is equally true that there are few in the church who actively seek out those who have been burned in the line of ministry or forcibly removed. How is it that those who have spent their lives following Jesus’ example of searching for the lost sheep now find themselves among those who are “lost,” with no one mounting a search and rescue for them?
Here is one former pastor’s story as shared with me on LinkedIn –
“Funding for my position came to an end, which is why I exited my job. But shortly after that, I exited all ministry and went into secular employment. I kept away from churches and ministries where I was known (because I didn’t want any expectations from anyone) and found myself not getting into fellowship anywhere. I’d say the reason was a combination of disillusionment and burn out resulting in low self-esteem. Looking back, I am stunned that no one from leadership bothered to try to follow me up. (I’m also not sure how I would have responded at the time if they had.) Also, of all the people I had connected with and poured my life into, only one kept in touch in that first year.” – Ian S.
This is one of the deepest disappointments in my own story of crash and burn. It seems that, regardless of the circumstances, if pastors are exited from a ministry, they are seen as damaged goods and are most often left to fend for themselves in a wilderness of hurt, confusion and shame.
As our conversation unfolded, my wife reminded me of the story of the man healed of his blindness by Jesus, and what happened to him after his sight was restored. After telling everyone about his healing, he was brought to the religious leaders of his day for an examination and was eventually thrown out of the “church” (John 9). The incident is followed by these words in verse 35: “Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when He found him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Did you catch that? Jesus went looking for him! This same spirit of Jesus motivated Barnabas to track down Saul, “the persecutor,” and invite him into the growing ministry of the church plant at Antioch. Even the military will scour the battlefield for those who are wounded, not wanting to leave any behind.
Where do they go, these lost shepherds? Who is looking for them? Who will offer them a second chance? A Google search will yield plenty of advice about how to pick yourself up after a failure, as well as stories of those who, by sheer determination, have navigated times of loss and rejection. But try to find one story of someone who has gone looking to give a second chance to a failure and you will come up empty handed. Those who are willing to come alongside a fallen pastor, who have reached out to a family wounded by a forced exit, are a rare breed.
But, they do exist! Those of us in PIR Ministries have the same “search and rescue” attitude of Jesus and we are linked with other ministries that share a similar purpose. We want to find these lost ones – the exited and fallen pastors among us.
But we need your help. Will you introduce one of these lost shepherds to us? Will you be a Barnabas?
You would not be alone in your endeavor.