It's Your Move: Surviving Pastoral Transitions


The traditional lists of the greatest stress-producers in a person’s life usually begin with the death of a spouse, an understandable major trauma.  What many don’t consider is that near the top of the list is the stress arising from making a move from one location/job to another.

How does a pastor and family survive and thrive through the move cycle through the stresses and hassles of pulling up roots and planting fresh roots as strangers in a strange land? Good moves happen every day. There is no magic formula and no relocation version of the Four Spiritual Laws, i.e., nod here and sign there and you’re going to the Heaven of a stress-free move.

Christy and I are in our 23rd house, mostly courtesy of 28 years of active duty in the Navy as a chaplain. When we passed 4 years and 2 months in Peoria we realized we had never lived this long anywhere in our 39 years of marriage. We have had the experience of one of our kids calling us from college and asking what her home address was, given that we had executed another cross-country move during the summer. I don’t write as one who knows everything but I know enough, having learned it first hand, and in that spirit share the following tidbits.

First is vision. Victor Frankl wrote of his concentration camp experience that he learned people could handle almost any ‘how’ if they have a vision of ‘why.’ A vision of ministry undergirds the ‘why’ of itinerancy. It is not perfect but beyond the hassle there is real wisdom in seeking to align the best person with the best position where the best ministry can happen. That doesn’t always happen but it happens enough to make me thankful. The biblical vision behind the notion of itineracy is sound and requires occasional reaffirmation.

Second is attitude. If you have kids at home, remember that the greatest single factor in how well or badly the kids handle the move is in how they see the parents emotionally handle the move.  In times of upheaval children naturally lean toward their parents for support. An honest but positive attitude is huge in helping them make the key initial adjustments.

Third is healthy closure with one’s former appointment. We all have known colleagues who make “zombie moves,” constantly coming back from the dead or the distance of their present appointment to mess with favored members of their prior congregation. Don’t go there. You cannot take hold of a new place of ministry until you have turned loose of your old place of ministry. Conference guidelines are reasonable and practical in such matters. As Rambo hissed to the nasty sheriff in First Blood, “Let it go.”

Fourth, unpack. This is literal and spiritual. In our first Navy move from Belleville to Guam we landed in a duplex on base. A seasoned couple that lived across the street, a family active in the Catholic chapel, greeted us and offered wise counsel to us newcomers. “Unpack everything. If you leave anything in boxes, you will leave part of yourself in those boxes and not be fully here, and you need to be fully here.” Literally, unpack everything and if you have more stuff than you have space, well that is another kind of issue.

Unpack spiritually also. Commit daily and nurture the focus on where you are now, those you are privileged to serve now. People sense if you are seeking to be incarnate among them or if they are a 5 year stepping stone to a place where you really can do your thing. Seek the good and the needs where you are and partner with your family in this positive approach.

Many helpful resources can be found online to assist with the practical and emotional dimensions of moves. This snapshot is intended to offer the encouragement that good moves can happen that honor God and enhance the family. Consider Genesis 12:1: “Now the Lord said to Abraham, ‘Go…’”  To paraphrase the classic song, That Old Time Religion, “If it was good for Abe and Sarah, and it’s good enough for me!”