Breaking-Up With A Ministry

Leah Wilson
November 17th, 2020

Break-ups are devastating and awkward. There is often a lot of hurt and confusion, and it can be easy to jump into another relationship in order to avoid the pain from the former. Four years ago, my husband and I moved back to America to live in a state we had never visited and had no family nearby, in order for me to start a new ministry position.

For over a year, I felt I gave the program and the students my all, but in the end, it was not enough. I knew it was not working and there was nothing I could do to change it. My worst fears were confirmed; I was not the right fit for the ministry. I felt like a complete failure.

Once I resigned, I felt I had lost the only community I had in the area. All of my relationships, and ultimately purpose, was gone. The emotions I felt were very similar to a break-up.

So, to get over my pain, I decided to treat my resignation as I would a break-up.

Time of Reflection

Strapping my infant daughter into a backpack, I took to hiking for hours in the woods of Colorado. I sought distance (literally) from the situation in order to look objectively. Rather than complain or turn to others to ensure they heard “my side of the story,” I decided to look back on the good and the bad of my time within the ministry. I decided to own the shortcomings I knew were my own rather than deny them.

I also made a conscious effort not to believe some of the spiteful words said to me out of anger and frustration. It was difficult, taking both the positive and negative together, but it helped me to see my time was not wasted.

The time of reflection also helped me to feel sympathetic toward the others involved and give grace to my “failure.” My time of reflection was mostly spent walking and hiking in the woods. I needed the time alone, without distractions, in places I found peaceful.

Time of Lamentation

During my walks, I cried out to God. With tears streaming down my face, I asked “why?” I named all the hurt and said it out loud to God. I prayed for the ministry and the students.

I said out loud my frustrations, my disappointments, my anger.

I cried...

I swore...

I laughed...

I screamed...

I took time to feel every emotion and give it to God. On those hikes, I held nothing back. In order to lament, I spent time feeling all the emotions. I often lamented alone, but also shared my emotions with my husband and very close friends. I sought the counsel of mentors and talked with them about what had happened and asked them how to move forward.

I read through the Psalms and various books on prayer from scholars I admired. I came to realize the need for a language of lament within our ministries and the need to provide our students, leaders, and co-workers with ways they too can cry out to God.

Time of Seeking God

It has now been two and half years since that experience. I was determined to take a break from ministry rather than jump right into another position. I wanted the time to reflect, lament, and work on my relationship with God. For what I thought were the best intentions, I stepped back fully, not just from the ministry, but the church.

I needed time to understand, that while I need church and community, people are not God. People are human and as flawed and imperfect as I am.

In order to be a better person to them, I needed to adjust my expectations.

I came to realize I needed to rely more on God. It was a time of quieting my heart and not only lamenting to God, but listening to Him. I listened to God through others’ discernment, through conversations with mentors I respected, and through delving into the Bible and resources that aided me in laying my life, my failures, my expectations, and my loves before God.

One of my greatest comforts through my “ministry break-up” was knowing I was not alone in my situation. I had a few friends who went through similar situations and were able to grieve with me. By taking the time to process my ministry resignation as a form of break-up, I was able to begin healing through forgiving others and forgiving myself. My time spent in reflection, lamentation, and seeking provided closure, peace, and ultimately greater reliance on God.

Leah Wilson

Leah Wilson graduated with a master's in applied theology from the University of Oxford. Her travels have allowed her to work with youth around the world. Currently, Leah is an academic advisor for university students who are studying abroad at Oxford.

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