It’s been about two months since I started my journey as a lead pastor. Even though my husband ministers alongside me as a co-lead pastor, the responsibility of this lead pastoral hat has been surreal on a whole new level.
While I have been in ministry for the past fifteen years and been leading my current church since its inception about four years ago, I am learning something new everyday and being stretched in every imaginable way. Of course, every growth comes with great joy, reward, and as well as some unavoidable growing pains.
A few hours ago, I’ve had one of the most difficult conversations with a church family and heard the most dreaded saying of all times for pastors: “We are leaving church…”
This conversation has been evolving over the past few weeks, so I was not shocked when they expressed their desire to withdraw their membership from church. Their reasons? Firstly, they don’t believe in women serving as lead pastors. Ouch! But in all sincerity, I respect their position and integrity to staying true to their conviction. And I accept the fact that I am not the kind of pastor they need or want. Secondly—and more importantly, we differ greatly in theology (i.e. Pentecostalism vs. Reformed Cessationism). So I presumed that could have been another major contributing factor for their decision.
However, no matter how much I respect their theological background and decision, I cannot help but to mourn over this sense of loss. What makes it even more difficult is the fact that they are God-fearing people whom my family enjoys doing life with. It is hard to say goodbye to those you love and cherish. It is even harder when these dear “friends” would compassionately look you in the eyes and tell you that you are not living according to God’s Word.
So… what do I with that? How do I overcome this sense of rejection, (gentle) rebuke, and correction? I am sure I do not have all the answers, but these are the things I am doing right now to continue to grow and learn from this “first goodbye”:
Pray—Pray for the individuals who choose to leave. You can’t stop them, but you can bless them. Also, guard your heart through prayer so that you may not grow bitter but rather mature as a result. And ask your friends, mentors, or family to pray with you. You need them, trust me!
Remember the calling—The call to ministry only comes from God. He is the One who ordains leaders and empowers them for the works of ministry. So rest on that and stay true to that calling no matter who challenges it. Do not dismiss what people say about your leadership-style, but never question God’s calling.
Walk in obedience—At the end of the day, if God calls us to ministry, we are to obey. We are going to be held accountable one day when we see Him face-to-face. Our job as pastors is not about pleasing people 24/7 (you know that is impossible, including your own family members sometimes). But we are called to honor God through our lives. I am walking this journey of a lead pastor as an act of obedience; otherwise, I would be living in sin.
Expect challenges—Pastoring is a hard job, but as female pastors we have additional layers of challenges. For me, I am doubly “challenged” for being an Asian female pastor! But we are not alone in this. Even Jesus was challenged, questioned, and rejected (by His own people)! Sometimes, these challenges may seem like personal attacks. In those times, just keep walking steadily and choose to respond (not react) through God’s grace, wisdom, and strength.
Mourn and move on—(This is an addition after a good night of sleep) Writing, talking, and praying about the situation certainly helped me move on. But deep down in my heart, I was aching. I tried to cover it up with a “big girl” mask because I wanted to remain strong. But then, I remembered even Jesus wept. I mourned over the sense of being accused of not knowing the Bible, being told my call to ministry was unbiblical, and feeling prejudiced against for the first time in my life, not because of my ethnicity but because of my gender. I felt like a true minority… Mourning is part of the process of losing something you treasure. But now, I feel refreshed and refocused. It is time to move on and focus on those who do view me as their pastor.
So, that is how I am overcoming this fresh “goodbye” moment. It is not fun, but it is enriching. Besides, I am writing this while my thoughts are fresh so that I can thoroughly convey what I am feeling and processing. I also hope my experience will speak to someone and give hope.
In the process of dealing with this, I discovered something that is just as important as my conviction to staying true to God’s call to ministry: support from friends and family.
So, here is a short list of Dos and Don’ts when someone decides to leave the church because a pastor is a lady.
DO affirm her pastoral calling. Show that YOU support her and that YOU are walking with her. Your support matters. In the midst of mourning, she might have forgotten that God called her and ordained her for such a time as this.
DO pray for her and with her. No one likes to be rejected or called wrong. Sometimes, she will be told that she is living against God’s will and Word. Those are harsh words to swallow for anyone. But prayer helps us overcome trying times in victory!
DON’T feel sorry for her. When God called her to pastoral ministry, He knew fully well what she was going to face. God intended her to be a female pastor with unique gifts and passions. Struggles are part of life and ministry. Even male pastors face them daily. So don’t say sorry; say, “You can do it with God’s help”!
DON’T remain silent or dismiss the wound. When someone leaves a church for any reason, a part of you dies and the pain is real. For female pastors, the pain is multi-layered because somehow we feel like we “failed” to live up to our calling by not meeting people’s expectations or spiritual needs. Do not let them dwell on those thoughts. Instead, talk it out. Be their trusted sounding board.
So, there you have it! My first “Goodbye” to a dear church family as a lead pastor. I expected to face some oppositions, but maybe not this soon. But all in all, I am learning and growing. I love this family that decided to leave and I always will. God has placed us in each other’s lives for a reason, and I know it is more than just teaching me how to say a proper goodbye. I am sure there are more lessons ahead. But today is a new day, and I am ready get back up to love God and others with my whole heart, mind, and strength! I love pastoring!