Sunday, February 2, 2014

Deja Vu All Over Again

Yogi Berra was one of the greatest catchers in major league baseball. Berra spent nearly his entire career with the New York Yankees. He is one of only four players to be named the Most Valuable Player of the American League three times and is one of seven managers to lead both American and National League teams to the World Series. But, Berra is probably best known for his Yogiisms; pithy comments and witticisms that often seem paradoxical or contradictory. 

On of my favorite Yogiisms is: "It's déjà vu all over again." Berra explained that this quote originated when he witnessed Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris repeatedly hit back-to-back home runs in the Yankees' seasons in the early 1960s. Recently, that particular Yogiism came to mind for a far less celebratory reason. I was having a conversation with a pastor. Actually, a former pastor. He had recently experienced a forced termination. 

The sad reality is that forced terminations are not all that unique. It is estimated that one in four ministers will be fired (or, forced to resign) at some point in their ministry. If you are currently serving in a church, don’t think you are exempt. One in three ministers are serving in churches that have forced a minister to leave. Maybe you are in one of the other two. Maybe not. 

If you have faced a forced termination (or know someone who has), the following suggestions are designed to help you walk through this valley constructively.  

Don’t hold onto the anger. 
You’ve poured your heart and soul into a people who (it seems) have trampled on both. You will be mad. ‘Mad’ may be an understatement. You will be angry. Deal with it, but do not hold on to it. Do not bury it. Buried anger will explode at the worst possible time. And, most likely, it will be directed at the wrong people. Unresolved anger will hurt you and deeply affect your family. Your wife (and/or your children) will follow your lead. 

Don’t stop loving people. 
People will hurt you. No doubt about it. In every church I have ever served I have experienced a key leader (and friend) who decided to leave the church. Each time I was hurt. Each time I wrestled with whether to withdraw from relationships. To stop caring. To stop exposing myself to the potential for such hurt. But, you cannot serve the Lord if you do not love his people. Even when they bitterly disappoint you. 

Don’t quit. 
No one likes to be hurt. After a forced resignation it can be very tempting to decide it is just not worth it. Very few careers are like the ministry. In very few careers does a person perpetually expose themselves to the highs and lows of life on a weekly (if not daily) basis. In very few careers are you called upon to love people who despitefully use you (to quote Jesus). The temptation is to throw in the towel. Don’t. You are valuable to God’s kingdom. God has invested gifts in you that He is refining for the sake of His kingdom. While this church may not have recognized those gifts, it does not mean they are not there. In fact, it may be this experience will prepare you for the place of your greatest usefulness. 

These three not only apply in the case of forced terminations, but, if you are a leader in the local church, they apply in several ministry situations. It seems to me they apply when key people leave the church. When that happens it is easy to get angry or withdraw or second guess God’s call on your life. It applies when key volunteers decide to step down. Leaders can be greatly shaken when people abdicate their responsibilities, while the leader remains to make sure ministry moves forward. Any time one of these circumstances arise, it can be déjà vu all over again. 

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