What a beautiful thing it is when the Church – perceived by many to be a place where we shoot our wounded – becomes the means of healing and restoration for its own! This last weekend I had the privilege of observing, firsthand, how a small suburban church has welcomed a burned-out pastor and his family into their midst and walked with them through the PIR process, finding the hope they so desperately needed. Pastor B had been trying to plant an inner city church for 7½ years. Early last year, he and his family came to the place where they were discouraged and ready to quit – burned out in every way. A call to PIR Ministries resulted in a story with a much happier ending.
Pastor B is in the final stages of completing the Pastor in Residence (PIR) program. It was a delight to meet with him and his wife, as well as the pastor and members of the congregation who make up his support team. Even as a part of this great ministry, I often wonder if the Body of Christ will ever catch on to the importance of offering grace to pastors who have exited the ministry. My hope was renewed as our staff had the opportunity to interact with this couple and the church. Here were a pastor and wife who had gone from feeling like they were dropping into an abyss, to being at a place of growing spiritually and emotionally healthy. Here was an example of how God’s grace, extended in simple but meaningful ways can restore a fellow believer and servant to a renewed relationship to Jesus, the church, and ministry.
Some things that I took away:
The Senior Pastor leads the way – The pastor of the Refuge Church exuded a spirit of compassion and encouragement. There was a total lack of territorialism. Rather, there was an open invitation to the exited pastor to enter into the life and ministries of the church. It was evident that this same spirit was a way of living that, naturally expressed in daily ministry, had become the ethos of the church. The process of healing starts on a solid foundation when this kind of attitude is extended to a wounded fellow pastor.
The people make a difference – As we interviewed the members of the support team, they were actually surprised about the extent of the impact they had on this couple. But their willingness to show up – to be real and present with this hurting couple – made all the difference. Mel Lawrenz, in his new book Spiritual Influence, says “We must put out of our minds any feeling that ‘being there’ is pitifully inadequate. If you have ever been in a crisis, you understand how important the presence of others is.” The process didn’t require a theological education on their part, just the willingness to love and walk alongside a brother in need. Meeting with these folks on a regular basis allowed Pastor B and his wife to be real again: dropping the “pastoral persona” and re-engaging with life.
The program works if you work it – I am borrowing from AA here, but it is the truth. Having been trained and prepared, the pastor and support team followed the PIR process laid out for them, adapting it here and there as needed. In the end, Pastor B and his family avoided the risk of remaining in unhealthy patterns of life and ministry and potentially drifting far from God and the church. The safety net that Pastor B and his family experienced, though far too often lacking in the church world, is what PIR Ministries is all about.
I am greatly encouraged today. Tomorrow, I may see another example of the carnage and pain that results from a pastor exiting ministry. But today I have hope – a hope I can confidently declare – that the church can truly heal its own.
If you know pastors like Pastor B, burned out and on the verge of abandoning their calling, let them know there is hope. To the ones who have been forced out, the fallen, the wounded and discouraged, let them know that the church really does care. Put them in touch with us. Our calling is to do all we can to create the same opportunity that Pastor B had: to experience the grace of God through the lives of His people.
Pastor B is on a path that will likely see him move into a different aspect of ministry – and that’s OK. That option may not even have existed apart from a faithful and loving band of believers who took up the call of Jesus to love one another, and applied that to a hurting pastor and his family. We can truly heal our own!