Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Long Goodbyes

While my son and I were out enjoying the evening together recently, I began to reminisce about some of the places we've lived over the past thirty years of ministry. When we returned home, I discovered on Facebook that a pastor friend of mine was leaving his church for another ministry nearer the east coast. "It been," he wrote, "a very, very hard decision," hard on himself, his wife and children. "But God seemed to be leading that way." My family and I can sympathize with all the difficulties they face. Relocating is one of the problem issues the general public does not seem to grasp about pastors' families. A pastor arrives at his new church with his beaming wife and children, and the announcement "We are all pleased and excited to be here." No doubt there is truth in that statement. Finally arriving at a new ministry is a big relief in many ways. Yet there is so much behind the scenes that people do not realize, for uprooting the family is very hard. The challenge for every pastor is how to communicate to the rest of the family that his calling, his sense of God's leading, must somehow become theirs as well. The preacher senses that his present ministry is closing. He has the urge to move on, but no one told the wife and kids; and believe me, just telling them that "it's the Lord's leading" doesn't satisfy them. I've known pastors and their wives who nearly came to a divorce because he was ready to move and she wasn't. Our children came along with us of course, because they had no choice, but months and sometimes years passed before they forgave me for forcing them to leave friends behind. The truth is that saying "goodbye" takes forever in our hearts, and sometimes it never comes. My family and I have attended two anniversaries of former churches this year, and I could not help but feel like I should have apologized for leaving each of them. Whenever I return, the goodbyes become longer and longer because a part of our heart remains with all those we've left. They remain our good friends. We still pray for them, we still miss them and we still ache for them. My friend will go to a new ministry and do fine, I am sure. His family will adjust - we always do - but like all good pastors, a piece of their heart will be left behind. Being in the ministry means never really saying goodbye.

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