The Minuses of Ministry Moves

In over 20 years of ministry as a worship pastor and music minister, my family and I have been through several ministry-related moves. All of these have been positive for a number of reasons that I’m saving for a later post, because today I want to talk about some of the minuses–the negatives–that are part of these moves:

1. Stress in the immediate family.

Perhaps the most obvious, and definitely the most significant, drawback is the stress for the minister, spouse and children. There is usually the need to move to a new house, to leave good friends, for children to change schools. Any of these in and of itself is a huge emotional stressor, and they have even more impact when combined. On top of that are the practical considerations: often the spouse has to find a job as well; there’s a search for the best neighborhoods and schools; finding new doctors, a new bank, grocery store, restaurants, coffee shop, gym; filing paperwork with all of the governmental agencies for vehicles, taxes, and so on; letting everyone who sends you mail know where you now live. Then there’s moving in, getting settled, making friends…it’s a lot for any family.

2. Stress in the extended family.

Most of us have parents, siblings, and others who care about us. So even though they are not part of the move, the move can still impact the extended family. Often there is stress simply because their loved ones are going to live farther away, which is hard for most any family. Sometimes it’s that the ministry family is moving to a part of the world that may be perceived as unsafe or undesirable. In other circumstances, the extended family may not understand the “call” God has impressed on this family to move to and serve in another area. The extended family may even take it personally and harbor resentment toward the minister’s family or the church that has called them. Having had many conversations with others in ministry, I can say that the difficulties related to extended families are some of the most heart-wrenching faced by those who must make ministry-related moves. They love their families and often miss being close to them, but they simultaneously feel strongly that they must fulfill the call to service, wherever that call may lead.

3. Stress in the departure.

Our family has been blessed with loving departures whenever God has called us to a new place of service, but we know this is not always the case. Sometimes there are difficult situations or undercurrents that make a departure uncomfortable. At other times, people may resent the minister’s departure. I remember one church where a friend told me, “I know you said God told you to go to this new place, but he hasn’t told me yet.” He said it in a friendly way, but some people really seem to think God shouldn’t make any big moves without consulting with them first.

4. Finding your place.

I mentioned this briefly above, but it deserves its own bullet point. Even though the world is more transient than ever, the vast majority of people still have the experience of being born and growing up within a community, typically living near multiple generations of their own relatives and long-time family friends. For a family where one or more members are in full-time ministry, this is rarely the case. The ministry family suddenly finds themselves in an unfamiliar area, surrounded by people who don’t know them and whom the family does not know. It’s not just a question of where everything is in this new environment, but of where you belong. In our own experience, most people are extremely kind and welcoming, yet it still takes time to build close friendships and to feel as if you truly belong. Sometimes this is made more difficult because of cultural perceptions about those in the ministry:

  • “They are too ‘holy.’ What if they find out our family isn’t perfect?” or
  • “They probably only read the Bible and pray at their house. They wouldn’t be interested in things that are actually fun.”

When I talk with friends in the ministry, this is probably the issue that causes much of their day-to-day struggle: they have a deep love for the community God has called them to serve, but it is sometimes hard for them to truly feel they are part of that community.

What are some of the other challenges facing ministry families? What are some ideas for dealing with those in a constructive way?