When You Lose Your Ministry
by Greg Asimakoupoulos
How does it feel to be laid off? If you can’t answer that question yourself, there’s a good chance that someone else in your neighborhood can. There are a growing number of people in the town where I live who understand the trauma of being unexpectedly unemployed. In light of the dark days at Andersen, Motorola, K-Mart, and other corporations, there are more people mowing their lawns mid-day. Just like me.
In the weeks leading up to the Monday morning I was let go, I was aware of a financial cloud that hung over the parachurch organization where I worked. Cash flow had been a concern. But since the economic uncertainty triggered by September 11, the atmosphere had become more somber. Like scores of ministries, donations were down and expenses were up.
As I arrived at work that day, I had no idea what awaited me. I turned on my computer, and began organizing my projects for the day. Without fanfare, the boss called me into his office. Whereas some might have taken that as an unmistakable cue, I didn’t until I was asked to sit, and the door was closed behind me.
He told me that mine was one of eleven positions being immediately eliminated. There would be four more weeks of pay, and a letter of recommendation, if I desired. He thanked me for my contribution over the past half decade and wished me good luck. My heart began to beat double time. My stomach knotted and I was speechless. It wasn’t that I didn’t have things to say; I was too angry to risk opening my mouth for fear of what might come out. After five years with a family-run ministry, I felt entitled to a bit more warning.
As I cooperated with the compulsory handshake, I managed a smile then shuffled back to my desk and dialed my wife. I was clueless as to how to break this unexpected news to her so when the answering machine picked up, I breathed a sigh of relief that I didn’t have to admit to being a failure for a few more minutes.
I rehearsed how best to tell her. Then I called on my Heavenly Father for help. It wasn’t much of a faith-filled prayer. It was more of an honest venting of hostility and fear. When Wendy did call back, I just told it to her straight. After expressing some surprise, she calmly said, “We’re on an adventure. The Lord must have something even better in mind for the next season of our lives. I’m excited.” She may have been excited, but I certainly wasn’t. Still, there was something about her confidence that got me through the rest of the day.
Over the next few weeks I met with some friends and avoided others. Ashamed, I just wanted to hide. When people attempted to put a spiritual spin on what I was going through, I just wanted them to clam up.
When you lose your job, you feel like Job. It seems you’ve lost it all. The world looks colorless and tastes like bitter gall. You seek the Lord, but He won’t speak. You lose your will to pray. And when your “good” friends try to help, you wish they’d go away. Quite insecure, you doubt your worth. You try in vain to hope. You feel alone and afraid. It’s so unfair to be laid off. You gave your heart and soul. You lose sleep. Your bills add up. You don’t know what or whom to call. You don’t know where to aim. No business card. No payroll check. No place to go. Without a job in an upwardly mobile suburb like we live in, you’re just a big “zero.”
Although I have been let go before, this time was different. Now I am a husband and father with tuition bills looming each month. Talk about scary! What makes my episode seem all the more frightening is the monster I feel breathing down my neck. His name is Midlife. At fifty, a guy’s supposed to be on the top, in the prime of his life. Instead, I worry about draining our savings account. I worry that some churches might see me now as too old to return to local ministry. I worry that the experience and unique abilities I see in the mirror won’t be detected by a future employer. Or worse, they will no longer be wanted.
Many I have talked to have been forced into the Twilight Zone on more than one occasion. Red admits to being a veteran at such transitions. He told me I’m in good company and that I should resist the temptation to feel sorry for myself. Brad went for eighteen months before he found a new job. He encouraged me to try and let the process play out. He was confident something would eventually open up. Tim challenged me not to take time off to just relax. “Looking for a new job is a full-time job,” he said.
In a twisted sort of way, I envy these friends who have been through this before. They have a confidence and coping skills that I am still trying to develop. Their example and counsel feed my hope that there actually is life after being laid off. I am grateful for their advice. They provide me with a reality check.
While I am in this Twilight Zone, I’m learning to experience God’s grace in ways I never knew existed. I’m looking to Him for answers and directions. I’m approaching the Scriptures with a greater sense of urgency and determination to hear God speak through them. And in the process, I’m rediscovering that my value as a human being, husband, and father is not based on a brass nameplate or business card.
Every day is a little different. Some days I feel like I’ve had a faith transfusion and I’m ready to pull up a chair and watch mountains move. Other days I’m glued to the sofa watching TV. Fortunately, I’ve been able to string together some freelance writing jobs to cover our oldest daughter’s monthly tuition.
One recent assignment required me to look at Job’s response to his misfortune. His pain far exceeded the transitionary trauma of losing a job. Covered with boils and familiar with loss, this Old Testament prophet offers a perspective worthy of being heeded. “He (God) knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). It reminded me that God is capable of redeeming the hardships in our lives. And as best as I can determine, God desires that this time of my life become a crucible of sorts in which my “mettle” is tested.
This journey into joblessness has caused me to remember that it’s not until you lose something you had taken for granted that you fully appreciate how good you had it. At the same time, you realize that what seemed so important is not all that valuable when compared to what can’t be replaced.
In all honesty, I’ve worked through my anger. I still grieve over the way my employer handled the situation and I miss the friendships at the office that were ended as if by death. Truthfully, there are still days when I panic, wondering when and if I’ll find a position that matches my skill set and sense of call. But those days are fairly infrequent. Deep in my heart I know I’m more than a zero. The Lord thinks I’m a “10.” My worth to Him does not consist in what I do, or when. He’s gifted me and knows my skills. He loves me as I am. And so, I’ll take my cues from Job and trust God’s unseen plan.
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Reassure Him That He’s Lovable
Remind Your Husband He Still Has A Job
Review God’s Faithfulness With Him
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