Living in Leaving Limbo

You did it. Sunday morning, you announced that you would be leaving. After a certain date, you would no longer be their pastor. After the service, hugs, tears, well wishes. It’s emotional. Monday morning, you begin to notice a change. It’s subtle at first, then it becomes more noticeable. You are entering “Leaving Limbo.” Essentially, your announcement signals a major change in relationships. For some, it may be the equivalent of the loss that comes from a death. For some, it may be sadness tempered with gladness for your new opportunity. And there even may be a soul or two, who say, “Finally.”

Over the course of my ministry, I have experienced several reactions when I have announced I was leaving. I have discovered that they are pretty normal and can be part of the ending of a healthy ministry at a church.

One is that your closest friends and partners in ministry, may begin to withdraw from you emotionally. They are detaching. They are saying goodbye. They are trying to reorder their lives while you begin to disengage from ministry with them and pack. You may even begin to detach emotionally, and even allow some anger that you have buried to surface. Someone may even be angry at you for leaving. They may have a sense of betrayal and abandonment. Don’t take it personal. Don’t act on anger or hostility.

Another experience may be that of someone who has disagreed with you beginning to express their anger or their ill feelings more openly. They have nothing to lose. After all, you are leaving. Don’t take the bait. Let it go.

A third response is like driving 70 miles an hour on the interstate in heavy traffic, and you accidentally knock the gear shift from drive to neutral. The engine revs but you slow down. The visioning and enthusiastic planning of ministry slows down. They become passive. After all, why should they invest energy in your goals when you are leaving? Plus, they figure the new pastor may have some new ideas.

A fourth response, and by no means the final one, is that you and your family may begin to feel grief, and even buyer’s remorse. You may find yourself asking questions like, “Did I do the right thing?” or “Am I really doing God’s will?” Don’t panic. It’s normal. Remember Jesus said that once you put your hand to the plow, don’t look back (Luke 9:62). Move ahead believing that God has something new and wonderful for you.




One Response to Living in Leaving Limbo

  1. […] Bill Sterling wrote an awesome reflection about pastoral changes in our churches. You can find here (url:  […]

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