Tips to help pastors and families on the move
Susan Miller knows how it feels to live a gypsy’s life. The wife of a corporate hotel executive, Miller moved 14 times in 25 years. The experience had a profound effect and led her to start Just Moved Ministry. The spiritually based non-profit reaches out to people who are frequently uprooted and equips them with tools to help them let go of the past and embrace new lives. She now leads relocation classes in churches, military installations and corporations, as well as trains motivators to guide families who are dealing with the stress of moving. Miller offers these suggestions.
Tips for pastors and their families making a move to a new church and community:
1. Before you move, be sure you have closure with people and places. Take pictures to recall important memories. You might want to make a scrapbook or album with keepsakes representing your time in that church and community.
2. Once you have moved, be aware of what your overload factors are. Watch for physical, emotional and spiritual strain.
3. Try not to compare your last church and community with your new situation.
4. Be careful of having unrealistic expectations. They can be the ruin of any new appointment.
5. Remember, moving is a loss—a tangible loss. You will grieve on some level. Expect to go through the stages of grief because you have lost close touch with friends, a church, a home or a neighborhood you love. It can be even more traumatic when you move to a new place where you may not have a support system in place. Understand that what you are experiencing is normal.
6. Be sensitive to your spouse’s identity crisis. The loss of personal identity in a move can be huge. So many times people introduce the spouse as a pastor’s wife or husband rather than “this is Judy” or “this is Joe.” Loneliness in ministry is a bigger issue than many people realize.
7. Let people help you. It could be the beginning of a friendship and it lets the congregation be a part of your family. Don’t isolate yourselves.
8. Borrow an egg! The best way to begin a friendship is to borrow an egg. It’s a way to start a conversation. It’s a first step.
9. Build your nest. Circumstances may force you to hit the ground running, but as much as possible, find time to settle in. It is important to get unpacked, put things in place, begin to make a home and start putting down roots.
10. Communicate. Share your anxiety. Don’t let your emotions fester. Talk to someone—preferably a spouse. Pray.
11. Remember, the greatest adventure is building the kingdom of God. You are doing God’s work. God has you right where you are to be.
Miller also has advice for congregations greeting new pastors and their families.
Ideas to help churches put out the welcome mat in meaningful and constructive ways:
1. Don’t just take the family a meal the first week and then forget about them.
2. Coordinate a team of volunteers to help with unpacking boxes, providing transportation, running errands, providing meals and stocking the house with groceries and cleaning supplies.
3. Be attentive to their personal needs. Give them a list with the name and phone numbers of grocery stores, plumbers, drycleaners, wallpaper hangers, painters, repair people and babysitters.
4. Give a pastor and family gift certificates for home improvement stores, restaurants, bookstores, magazine subscriptions, movie theaters and entertainment venues.
5. Perform random acts of kindness like washing their car(s), offering to babysit, giving them rides (they may not know their way around) and running errands.
6. Invite them to participate in fun activities like church parties, informal dinners and events in which they might not normally expect to be included.
7. Give them a call, send them an email, drop them a note — without an agenda. Don’t write criticism, but affirm them. Be an encourager.
8. Give them permission to take time to rest and get settled in.
9. If possible, provide a place for a little R&R — perhaps someone in the congregation can offer a weekend home or a guesthouse for a brief retreat.
Justmoved.org also offers Christ-centered books and materials related to moving, as well as a weekly Words of Encouragement email, a newsletter to encourage women in transition, a prayer support team, resources, devotionals, tips and encouragement for the mover.