If you find yourself in the second category, you will feel a wash of many emotions. Disappointment. Relief. Loneliness. Discouragement. Uncertainty and doubt. Ambivalence about moving forward with other opportunities. Inclination to guard your heart and avoid honest vulnerability in future candidacy encounters.
This is a hard point to reach, yet it is a point that almost every pastor and candidate-pastor will eventually face. If my research is any indication, very few seminary graduates landed a call to a particular ministry the first time through; even rarer is the case when a man might do so and remain there for the duration of his ministry. In other words, you may feel very alone, but you are not alone. You are in the company of 99% of all pastors and seminary graduates around you.
Don’t be afraid to simply live in these emotions for a little while— maybe a day or two, or even a week or two. Spend that time in spiritual refreshment and in relationships that are renewing to you. Engage your heart in soul-nourishing spiritual disciplines. Get extra rest. Do something fun.
A few more concrete suggestions for this hard season come to mind:
- Speak frequently and openly with your spouse and/or a few close friends. If you are married, the conversations with your wife (or husband) are vital. Open your heart to them and let them open theirs to you. Lean heavily on your friends, as well. After one particularly discouraging rejection, I may not have been able to continue pursuit of candidacy had it not been for the prayerful support of a few good friends; I simply sent out an e-mail plea for their prayers, and the following days were filled with e-mails, phone calls, and visits from those who bore my burdens with me.
• Ask for your pastor’s counsel and support. There may be no one better to understand what you are going through than your pastor: he has been through the process, and also knows you individually. He can offer you a unique type of care and encouragement.
• Find renewal in Word, prayer, and worship. I found corporate worship especially poignant during my last season of candidacy, especially during the hardest times (like when I was processing a recent rejection). Longer seasons of Bible reading and prayer were also great times of soul-searching for me.
• Take stock of the calling God has given to you. Remember how He has particularly gifted you, prepared you, and strengthened you for ministry. Our Lord does not labor in vain; His calling for you will be fulfilled in a way that will be satisfying and beyond your dreams or expectations. In His timing, He will place you in an opportunity that will be even better than recently ceased to be before you.
• Remember God’s protection. The idea that I named before about how “rejection=protection” isn't meant as mere platitudes; they are biblical truths that you are feeling the reality of in a hard way. But the other side of the equation is just as real and true for you: God is protecting you from what is a bad fit, and making you all the more ready for His service elsewhere.