After working 25 years in pastoral ministry, I felt a new wind of the Spirit blowing in my life: Not to look for a new ministry assignment in another local church, but to invest more deeply in my writing and speaking beyond the local congregation.
For years I’d written late at night and early in the morning, on my days off from pastoral ministry and on study leaves. I’d been invited to speak in other churches and at weekend retreats, to teach short courses and lead seminars in a variety of settings. But the extra speaking, writing, and publishing were outgrowing the margins of my time. So when I signed a book contract with a tight deadline, I knew the best thing for me—and the best for my church—would be for me to resign. I needed the time to write, and the church needed a full-time pastor.
Given my years of ministry with the church, I realized that my resignation would also mean saying goodbye to the congregation. Both the church and I would need that extra space to bless and let go of one another in a healthy way. But where would I go? And what would I need, to flourish in ministry as a writer?
As I prayed and pondered over these questions, I learned of a resident author and poet at an Anglican church in another province. She regularly offered intercessory prayers in worship, organized poetry readings, and actively participated in her church’s narratives at Christmas and Easter. As resident author and poet, she had an ongoing relationship with her church, unlike other writer-in-residence programs that might last a few months or a year at most.
Leading in a New Direction
Her experience made me wonder: What if I could be a resident author with a local congregation? My writing had always been grounded in the church, and I would appreciate that kind of ongoing support for my writing. I would welcome a place and a people to test ideas through preaching and other informal ways of connecting. I would value office space away from home both as another place to write and for the opportunity to connect with others. What if being a resident author could include these things? Could I find a church that would be a good theological fit? That would be creative enough and have room enough to experiment with a new form of ministry?
I loved pastoral ministry and still do. I loved my church of 25 years and still do. But I also love the way my writing life has unfolded. I’m now resident author for a small liturgical worship community where I preach regularly and am involved in community building. I now have a new job as editor of Rejoice!, a quarterly devotional magazine published by MennoMedia. I write both online and in print. I speak for churches and in other settings like online courses and weekend retreats.
Some might say that I went from full-time employment to becoming part of the gig economy. After all, instead of one job, I now have multiple commitments and multiple projects. Others might say I’m semi-retired, as I traded a full-time pay check for contract work. But I prefer to think of my ministry and work life as bricolage.
The French word bricolage is sometimes translated as “do-it-yourself.” But the term has been partly assimilated into English, so in the visual arts, a bricolage is a work constructed from various materials. Or in architecture, a neighborhood with an array of buildings of different styles and periods might be described as bricolage. I first heard the term from a mission worker who described her work as bricolage, putting together different projects and working with different people and organizations to build her ministry.
For me too, my work is a jumble of different things that have somehow come together—writing, editing, and speaking at different times and in different places, working with different people in different churches and other organizations. At times my bricolage does feel like a do-it-yourself project, as I’m still figuring out how everything fits together. Yet I’m also convinced that this unique combination of writing, editing, and speaking is God’s call on my life in this season. This is God’s bricolage for me.
For some in the church, my decision to resign and follow this new path came as a surprise. But for me it grew gradually over time, and not in a neat list like the one that follows, but in fits and starts, with lots of overlap. Yet as I’ve reflected on my experience, I’ve identified seven signposts that helped me discern when it was time to say goodbye and refocus my ministry and work life in a new direction.
If you’re sensing a time of transition in your work life, if you’re pondering work and ministry and how different parts of your life fit together, I pray these signposts will help you too.
- The Wind of the Holy Spirit Blowing in a New Direction
Before I had given any thought to leaving the church, while I was in the midst of the ministry I loved and still love today, one day I was talking with one of our church members in the hallway. Out of nowhere, I had a sudden thought: “I’m really going to miss you when I’m gone.”
The thought was so strong that I almost said it out loud, but didn’t. It surprised me, and made me wonder, where did that thought come from? Although I didn’t do anything with it then, it stayed with me, and over time I came to understand it as an early nudging of the Spirit that grew into a clear conviction.
Just as my calling into pastoral ministry had come to me by surprise, so my leaving also began with some surprise. Just as 25 years earlier I had felt the Holy Spirit moving me from not even thinking about pastoral ministry to being called, then curious, and then convicted by it, so I felt this time the Holy Spirit moving me from not even thinking about leaving, to being curious, and then convicted by a new call. I felt the wind of the Spirit blowing in a new direction.
- A Positive Passion
I’ve read articles on burnout and losing your passion as signs that it’s time to move on, but in my case it was quite the opposite. I sensed a positive passion drawing me forward. I published my first articles and books before being called into pastoral ministry, and I continued to write over the years, late at night and early morning, on days off and on vacation. The congregation’s policy of granting a four-month study leave every six years had also been key as I used all of that time for writing projects too. What’s more, the congregation had been flexible in allowing me to take shorter leaves more frequently to fit with various writing deadlines. I’m immensely grateful that the church valued my writing for the broader church alongside my congregational ministry.
With social media and regular blogging, the writing side of my life had called for even more attention. Readers not connected to my congregation or to any church, contacted me with questions, comments, and to share their personal stories. When I signed another book contract with that tight deadline, I sensed my positive passion for writing signalling a new direction.
- A Sense of Completion
The senior pastor before me had been with the church for six years when he suddenly left—some said he resigned abruptly, others said he was forced out. In my conversation with him, it was clear that whatever happened had been painful for him, and I could see that it had been painful for the church.
So when I accepted the church’s call, I determined then that I would leave well. I realize now that’s not always possible in spite of the best intentions. But by God’s grace, I’m thankful that I was not so stressed that I had to leave. No one forced me out. I left with a lot of energy for ministry, with growing edges, and a curiosity to learn new things. But with 25 years of ministry in the same congregation, I also felt I had reached a milestone, representing significant solid ministry that gave me a sense of completion.
- Good Timing for the Church
Just as my resigning seemed like good timing for me, I was also confident that it was good timing for my church. Of course, there were challenges—there always are in the life of any congregation—but the church had other capable staff members, an engaged membership that included people who could preach, teach, serve on committees, and exercise their gifts in many ways, and good leadership from our council and deacons. A transitional pastor search committee got to work, and I sensed there was energy for the search and visioning for the future.
- Agreement as a Couple
My husband and I had always practiced mutual decision-making in major decisions. When we moved to the United States for his studies and then back to British Columbia so he could take a college teaching position, when I was first called into pastoral ministry, we agreed together as a couple each step of the way.
Then when I sensed God’s Spirit blowing in a new direction, we agreed together on my resigning from the church. Together we would look for another church home—one where I might develop a resident author partnership and where there would be a place for both of us. When he later got sick and started cancer treatments, our new church prayed for him every week. When a year and some months later, he suddenly died from cancer-related complications, the church was there for me.
- Discernment with Others
As my conviction grew, I shared my thoughts with other family members, key leaders in the church, with our full deacon group, church council, staff, and finally with the congregation. The day after, I started receiving emails from others within our denomination and sister churches. Such news travels fast!
Some expressed shock or sadness. There were some tears. But no one among our friends or family, church leadership, congregation, or denomination seriously tried to talk me out of leaving. There was a healthy respect and affirmation. Another church soon inquired if I was looking for a new lead pastor position. A parachurch organization invited me to lead a retreat, which wouldn’t have easily fit if I had continued in my congregational role.
All of the above—and more!—were matters of deep reflection and prayer. There were many practical considerations concerning how to leave well, how to maintain friendships while making room for new leadership, how to manage finances and whether we might move, about how we might find another church and learn to be at home there.
My journey with work, ministry, and bricolage is not yet over. I’m still praying, still discerning, and the new wind of the Spirit is still blowing in my life. May the Spirit continue to blow where it will in your life too, and may you continue to pray and discern well.