I will never forget my first rejection from a church search committee.
From the start, God seemed to orchestrate my meetings with this particular church. The search committee probed deeply into my spiritual and personal life, as well they should have. I learned about their families; they learned about mine. We broke bread together as we discussed our vision for the children’s ministry at the church. I was given a tour of the children’s facilities at the church and asked where I would live if offered the position. For more than four months, I was in conversation with this search committee.
And then, over dessert one Sunday afternoon, the kind, softspoken, elderly chairperson spoke the words, “We’re sorry, but you are no longer a candidate for the position. We believe God is calling you elsewhere.”
My heart was shattered.
What many people who are not in ministry do not understand about a rejection from a church is that it is not just a rejection of your professional self. With a church search committee, you share your whole heart – your calling, your testimony, your spiritual strengths and weaknesses, your relationship with God. A rejection, after sharing so much, can feel devastating, like a rejection of your whole self. It spears your most vulnerable parts. And you can be left wondering, “How can I possibly go through this process again?” I know I was. I remember feeling like I had been told I was not good enough for their church, and I realized this is a peculiar loneliness that ministers seeking employment experience – where congregants and parishioners are welcomed into churches with open arms, ministry candidates are judged on whether or not they are “worthy,” or a “good fit” for the church.
The next year was difficult. It took me months before I would even apply for a position at another church. I was terrified of getting close to another search committee only to be discarded in the final few rounds of their search. At one point, I worked four part-time jobs, still barely able to pay off the loans I accumulated going to seminary for a vocation that didn’t seem to have a place for me. I saw classmates who graduated with me get jobs in churches where they were able to use their gifts and thrive. I grew bitter and depressed.
But God had other plans.
About a year after I was rejected by that search committee, I was contacted by the pastor of a church in my hometown. I had a past with this church. The church had allowed Camp Here and Now, a summer camp ministry I started while I was in college, to use her facilities for the camp, and the pastor, pastor’s wife, and many members of their congregation volunteered at the camp and raised money to fund the camp’s efforts to reach the surrounding community. I was excited to hear from this church. While running the camp, God had placed a distinct love in my heart specifically for the community the church was located in.
The pastor of this church told me that the church was looking to grow their children’s ministry, and invited me to be their children’s minister. It was definitely a God thing. This community already had my heart, and now, God was clearly calling me back to the place I loved, the place where I first felt the call into ministry. The place where God wanted to use me, was also God’s gift to me.
I wish that I had trusted in God’s plan instead of wallowing in despair.
So what would I say to ministers who have been rejected and are searching for work, wondering if God has a plan for them too?
Here are 6 things I would tell such a person
- A Rejection by the Church is Not a Rejection by God
A search committee may have the power to deny you a position on a church staff, but they cannot deny you your place in the family of God. Ephesians 1:3-6 rejoices in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is the one through whom we have a place in the family of God.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”
While a particular church may reject you, you belong to the Church because you belong to Christ.
It is also important to remember that just because a church moves forward with another candidate other than yourself, it does not mean that church rejects you as a person and/or as a child of God. In some cases, it hurts the search committee nearly as much as it hurts the rejected candidate to have to say good-bye. There are many congregants in a church, but there can only be so many staff members.
2. Think of Your Time Searching for a Ministry Job as a time of Learning
As painful as it is to be rejected, being rejected can serve as an invitation to grow. Unlike those who are in ministry positions, ministers who are searching for a church to serve have a chance to grow in their relationship with Christ without the pressures of ministry weighing down upon them. God can use this time to make you an even better minister for when you do find the place He has called you. Perhaps God is preparing you to produce even more fruit than you could have if you were hired by the church that rejected you.
“…every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2-6)
3.You Cannot Ruin God’s Plan for Your Life
Reframe your feelings of failure. Being rejected by a church does not mean you have failed God. It does not mean you have failed at your calling. It just means that it is not the place that God has for you right now. God’s will always prevails. Your only responsibility is to respond to God’s direction as it becomes clear.
“For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11)
4. Different Churches Have Different Needs
Just because you are not the right fit for one church does not mean you are not a good fit for any church. All churches, just like all believers, are different and unique in their strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps your strength is inspiring young Christians, and the church that rejected you is made up of mostly retirees. Perhaps the church that rejected you would not be able to give you as a minister what you need to be healthy spiritually and another congregation is full of loving people who will support you in ways you cannot imagine, as was the case with me. God just has another place for you. Trust in God’s knowledge regarding where you need to be.
5. Stay Involved Somewhere!
Do not stop going to church just because you are not hired by a church! God calls us to worship in communion with other believers. Find a church home and serve God there with your whole heart until God calls you elsewhere.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42)
6. Your Highest Calling is to Live in Christ, Not to Work for the Church
Even if a church never hires you in a ministry position, you are still called. Perhaps your calling just looks different than you imagined. Maybe God wants to use you in a nonprofit instead of a church. Maybe God can use you best as a Sunday School Teacher. Maybe God just wants you to live every day of your life as devoted to Him as you possibly can and He will change many lives along the way that you never even know about. Our greatest calling is not about what we do, but about Who we serve. And God remains the same yesterday, today, and forever. You are called, and your job status does not change that.
“Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches” (1 Corinthians 7:17)
Be encouraged, my ministry friends. The path you have chosen to walk is not an easy one. But you are loved, and you are needed, and you are called.