By Gary Sinclair

Gary has been married to Jackie since 1976 and has served in full-time pastoral roles since 1989. Prior to that he was a teacher and counselor at a Christian school in Michigan where he and Jackie met. They have two adult children and six grandsons. He is a gifted speaker and Bible teacher and currently also coaches, consults, speaks, writes and trains leaders. He’s been certified by the John Maxwell Team and his website is:

    You Never Saw It Coming: Responding to the News It’s Over

    Wednesday, May 15, 2024

    There’s a penalty given in football based on, “The Defenseless Receiver” rule. Receivers regularly run down the field, looking for the ball coming to them. However, as they reach for it, a defender blindsides them and they have no way to react, turn their head or, in general, protect themselves.

    Obviously, the rule and subsequent penalty are designed to protect players from serious injury and harmful hits that they never saw coming. Unfortunately, there’s no defenseless pastor rule for churches. We too can get blindsided from out of nowhere with no warning, grace period, discussion, or second chance.

    And there was no moral or financial failure, abuse, or other mistreatment issue.

    In many cases, their decision seemed to have little evidence, no mistake or attitude to blame. The board just decided it was time. Things were possibly improving, and the church was doing well, but all of a sudden you were out of a job.

    In other situations, there have been some tensions, but there were some meetings, discussions, and tasks to be improved. So, you tried to meet their expectations, do what they asked and one day a leader walked into your office and said, “We’ve decided that it’s time.”

    I know from experience that a host of emotions and reactions usually flow into your mind like lava from a volcano. You’re angry, want to defend any false accusations or demand that they tell you the reasons.

    You think everything from getting a lawyer to writing a nasty letter or Facebook post to boxing your books up (this is why you should purge your huge collection) and cleaning out your office.

    So, are their possibly better options than those that rise to the top when we’ve been let go and didn’t see it coming? I think so.

    What to do when you didn’t see it coming

    First, take a breath. A big one. Tell your spouse, good friend, mentor, whoever, but dump on them first. Say what you want to say to someone safe, not the person or board that hurt you.

    Second, remind yourself of who and whose you are. This isn’t a small thing or just picturing blue sky in the middle of the storm. The church’s unfair response doesn’t determine your worth, value or future. Read passages like Psalm 56:9, “This I know that God is for me.”

    Third, try to understand the “Why?” if you can ever find that out. Usually you can’t, so let defending yourself go unless the leadership is being abusive.

    However, it’s more important at this point to move to, “How?” How am I going to deal with this? What will I do to move forward that’s wise? What should we as a family do first, next, etc? There are organizations that can come alongside you to help, so get some other safe care.

    Fourth, stay and celebrate if you can. There are no doubt people there who love you, looked to you and were ministered to over the years and who want to thank you. So, if there’s a celebration, reception or gathering in a home to honor you, go.

    Those people need you there and you need them. One church we were in did a nice reception and like some of you, I was ready to walk out the door and just leave. But we went and they had people write us notes and leave them for us. There was a big stack, and we wept as we read them later. And our hearts were sad, but full again.

    Your loss isn’t the end. The road may be hard. But you still matter and have a purpose. You didn’t lose that.

    So leave well. Leave full. Leave with anticipation. Jesus isn’t called our Redeemer for nothing.

    Help us continue providing resources of care for pastors and their families.

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