For twenty something years my wife and I have served in active missionary ministry. Often we felt embarrassed by the special treatment given to us by church members. In most cases we would be singled out and escorted to front row or special seating areas. Usually for a meal or reception in connection with the services as special guests we were put in the front of the line. Often this meant sitting at special tables and being set apart from the people we came to visit.
It sure felt like we were being put on a pedestal. Church members would often tell us, “We could never do what you are doing.” Or “You are God’s special servants.” Hope you get the idea and know that although it made us feel awkward, we knew it was their well-intentioned means of telling us how much they appreciated our response to God’s call.
After a few years of this, one becomes pretty accustomed to that sort of treatment. Not that it was always welcomed or comfortable; rather it simply comes with the job. But when your season or time of ministry comes to a God-lead transition, suddenly things change.
Coming home after a season of missionary ministry can lead to a confusing loss of identity.
When your personal and professional identity has been tied up with being a special servant of God and suddenly ends, a missionary can feel a strong loss of security. It may feel like someone stole the pedestal they have put you on for so many years. After years of special treatment, suddenly you may find you are just one more church member. You may even feel that you have fallen off that pedestal that you were placed upon on by your church supporters. Was it something you did that was wrong?
For some returning missionaries this getting off the pedestal is a welcome shift. For others it only adds to the confusion of a career or ministry transition. Finding God’s direction in the midst of a disorienting and often frustrating change of ministry focus can be a huge challenge.
Get Your Bearings…
As a US Navy Officer I learned a bit about navigation. Some navigation requires a lot of tools and electronic assistance. But we also were trained to do dead reckoning using simple tools and observation. Keeping track of your course, speed, currents, noting landmarks and using the sun and stars with some old school charts could be very accurate in the hands of a skilled navigator.
Here’s a quick tip if you find yourself suddenly dealing with a loss of identity after your pedestal is gone.
- Look Back – Remember your calling and position in Christ. This is your foundation and touch point for your life. Consider how God has directed you in the past; meditate on the ways He provided. He will do it again!
- Look Sideways – Connect with your circle of supporting family, friends and ministry peers. Allow them to encourage and help you once again as you seek God’s direction.
- Look Up and NOT Down – It goes without saying that this is a time to seek God at the throne of grace and mercy. Let Him speak to you through the Word, Spirit, Circumstances and Godly counsel.
- Look Forward—Don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself. Start looking outward seeking the divine connections that God will place in your path. Be ready to follow His direction to that place He has prepared for you.
Have you been there and done this? How did you navigate your missionary career transition and find your identity again? Leave a comment and help others move forward.