Redeployment of Pioneers Part 2: How to kickstart a new career

Paul Ede

North East August 30, 2017

Being faced with transitioning away from pioneering can be a daunting proposition, especially after the years of investment that a pioneer has made to the work. What practical advice can be offered to enable this to happen?

In the last article, we looked at a variety of different options for transitioning pioneers to stay in ministry. We also listed at least four options for leaving ministry:

Options for leaving ministry – some observations

  1. A new career can provide the value and financial needs that the pioneer previously lacked, but also a stable platform to continue to continue to contribute in their spare time. This may involve 1) having the freedom to add their weight to debates about changing the structures they have just left, generating new avenues of creativity regarding the need for meta-change around structural concerns. And 2) using additional earning power to personally redistribute to their peers still pioneering where the structures will not.

  2. Becoming self-employed might be another attractive option, especially to pioneers whose entrepreneurial gifts have been offered but unsupported by the church. Often pioneers have de facto been self-employed if they have been self-fundraisers, so the leap is not so great. But a marketable skill or idea will be required.

  3. Creating a start-up community development project again plays to an entrepreneurs strength, and opens up options to address justice issues and community work, both often appealing to former pioneers. The 3rd sector also supplies better financial support for such ventures than churches. Not perfect, but better. Inspiration from the community engagement experience of the pioneer, and contacts in the 3rd sector that have come about during the pioneer’s period of service may serve well at this point.

  4. Return to an old career or increase commitment to an existing bi-vocational role. If these options are possibilities they may be some of the easiest routes to pursue for transitioning pioneer leaders. I know of several pioneers who have returned to family businesses or settled back full-time into roles previously only practiced bi-vocationally, if at all.

How to redeploy yourself out of church ministry: Ten principles.

  1. Trust God. “Underneath you are the everlasting arms.” (Deut. 33:27). “The Lord will provide” is one of those biblical ideas that are often used by denominations and congregations to ‘encourage’ pioneers, often avoiding the idea that “The Lord will provide for the pioneer through us.” Pioneers quickly become tired with hollow promises when they don’t ring true. And yet, this is a core scriptural teaching that can be trusted even when the wider church lets us down. The ways that the Lord can provide are myriad and he will reveal the most surprising avenues of generosity to those who have been faithful to him. But in my experience the coincidences increase when we apply ourselves as agents to exploring new avenues in faith. Don’t just sit back: be proactive and energised as you find new traction away from your old role.

  2. Plan for the change. Think about part-time training even while in your current role. This could be gaining a new skill or revitalising an old one. Use the same anticipatory skills developed as you grew your pioneer project to think about your own life trajectory. Organise a sabbatical season to regroup, and open up space for the Lord to redirect you. Take time to apprise everyone involved with suitable timescales of the changes you have decided on. Remind yourself and others that entrepreneurs who stay too long can often damage the organisation unless their role changes or they move on. Often it will fall to you to start a conversation about your future with the group…a hard course to precipitate, and ideally one that oversight or others would start. But rarely do. Disengaging as well as possible is a job in itself, and will require handover processes, moments of celebration, and relational contact to help people make their own adjustments as you leave. Leave behind people you have recruited who are stable to take on the work. Invite them to share the burden of your transition arrangements: you put in huge amounts of energy in the initial phases, now is where some return on that energy can be forthcoming. I proactively organised a Sabbatical for four months, and used it to discern as far as I could what God was saying, along with my wife Esther. I started a conversation on my return about what options there were for moving forward with the rest of the leadership team, appraised that over the next few months and notified them of our final decision four months after our sabbatical ended (eight months total elapsed time). We immediately let our congregation know in one-on-one conversations, and three months later had a public hand-over ceremony to release us from leadership and pass on the responsibility to those left behind. A year-long process. By this time, the Lord had already ignited a new flame in my heart.

  3. What flame Is God igniting? Sit with God and allow him to rekindle a flame of passion within you. I was asking the Lord, “well, whatever it is you have for me next, please reveal it to me.” But I knew that the role would need to have a level of meaning for me that came some way to matching the role I had left. I thought about the whole trajectory of my backstory: tour guiding and city interpretation, a Masters in urbanism and theology, training in mediation, community engagement and good conceptual skills. I allowed those to be at the forethought as I narrowed down the options. A career with meaning, for me, meant influencing questions of sustainability and a job somewhere in the Green sector. Googling Green Jobs left me with a list, of which the one that jumped out was Town Planning. This happened just before our farewell celebration. I immediately began letting my curiosity lead me into learning more about the possibilities and the sector.

  4. Assume that you will be moving from the congregation. Received wisdom has always said the retiring leaders should move on from the congregation. It can sometimes work if folks remain, but this is not the norm. My personal experience was the following: I had always known that my ongoing presence might be destabilising for the incoming leaders. What I didn’t realise so clearly was that it wouldn’t work for me personally. Because I wouldn’t ever just be seen as a normal congregational member, even if that was all I wanted! My voice was always given more weight than others, whether I wanted that or not. So I couldn’t ever just offer a ‘normal’ opinion. This was never going to satisfactory! Nobody’s fault. Just real life.

  5. Evaluate your transferable skills. Take time to assess and evaluate your core skills and match them to the job market you are interested in. In reviewing the recent documents about changes to education for planners, I discovered that community engagement skills and mediation training were being emphasised. Two of my transferrable skills.

  6. Be proactive and push doors to see if they will open. I quickly discovered that the entry level qualification for planning was a postgraduate year-long masters, for which I had a cognate entry qualification. Good start! But I had missed the intake that year by a couple of weeks. What to do for the rest of the year? Well, I began to push doors, develop relationships and teach myself what I could from the ground up. Eventually I was invited to write a paper by a Scottish planning charity called PAS on engaging faith communities in the planning system, and then to deliver that through pre-engagement in a community consultation in the community, Buckhaven, where I now live. Pushing doors put me in the right place at the right time, and allowed God to affirm the trajectory I was on.

  7. Network, network, network. Assume that the Spirit is laying open opportunities in front of you, and don’t be afraid to make a list of people you gradually discover might be key players in your chosen new sector. Then write to them and ask if you can take them to coffee. Very few say no. Meet with them, learn from them, and ask them to introduce you to other people they think you should meet. In the last year I have had 30-40 meetings with town planning and industry professionals following this route. I have gained important contacts and later been able to access these to help benefit some of the volunteering I have been doing. Prof. Cliff Hague OBE and president of the Cockburn Society was very willing to help me, and later offered his services for free when I set up and ran a small charrette-style consultation in my own community (partly to learn for myself how to run these things). Connections like this are gold dust. All I had to do was ask. Rely on the idea that the Spirit will prompt people to be generous to you. Grind out a new reputation with a new relational network. Win trust and learn how big the networks are, who trusts and works with who and why. Ask people what they think of each other and begin to learn the scene.

  8. Use relational connections to see what doors open. The real ace-in-the-hole for career changers from ministry is the fact that “you have many friends in this city” (Acts 18:10). In other words, connect with any Christian friends you have who have connections into the sector you are interested in, and ask them first for help. They will often be excellent contacts who will be able to introduce you to many other people.

  9. Access as much free training as possible. Keep a careful note of all your CPD. I have joined in no less than 28 free training events for Town Planning and Urbanism in the last year, and helped deliver as a volunteer 20 others. The learning from this has been invaluable and has led to some of the work I have conceived of and delivered being profiled in industry blogs. I have kept an accurate track of all of the actions as a log of my Continued Professional Development (CPD). This has helped me access my gateway training course and given me an excellent insight into the options I can pursue in the sector. Learn what the gateway qualifications for your new sector are and ask to meet the people who deliver that training for their insights. I learned about and later qualified for a full-fee scholarship for Town Planning.

  10. Learn how to remarket yourself in non-churchy jargon. In the midst of all this, I have been able to learn a new vocabulary and begin to transfer the value of my previous training into CV-relevant exemplars for applications and interviews. Learning a new jargon and explaining your own skills in the new idiom is a key skill, and takes time to do.

What makes transitioning as a pioneer unique?

On one level, transitioning from a career as a pioneer is the same as transitioning from any career to another. But there are also differences. Here are some of them:

  1. Few spare resources to cushion the transition. Because of the underpayment of pioneers across the board in Scotland, very few pioneers will come out of their work with any savings or financial cushion. Congregations and denominations will almost never offer extra sacrificial giving towards this end. It doesn’t cross people’s minds. Unlike many pioneers, I have had personal means to rely on to this end, for which I am thankful. This is another reason I so strongly advocate for structured pay and status for pioneers. Many are not in the same position I am.

  2. “What did you do for the last ten years of your life?” Pioneering a church is a very idiosyncratic thing to wider society, especially as the church has become more marginalised. Your previous work at best might be undervalued by new employers and at worst may even be a hindrance given how churches – and especially the idea of a religion confident enough to grow by starting new churches – may be seen negatively by wider society.

  3. Voluntarily leaving a role for the betterment of the organisation that has been left. There are relatively few careers where the idea of firing ourselves for the betterment of the organisation that is being left is common or expected practice. This is relevant in cases where a successful planter has moved on. Not only is this a costly move in many ways for the pioneer, it can be hard to explain the reasoning to future employers.

Many of these principles are also valid for inherited church leaders who need to move on healthily towards the end of their careers.

I also want to point out here, though, that some of the above ideas and principles can be helpful for anyone coming out of ministry. Some of my own generation who have entered ministry in inherited contexts have been honest about how, even at the age of 30, the idea of redeploying out of ministry is a scary prospect. This is exponentially-more true for older church leaders in the 50s who, if they leave their current post, feel fearful about employment options beyond their position. Sadly, this can actually stifle the growth of the church they have ministered to, and reduce options for up-coming leaders coming from behind. It can also minimise the availability of limited resources for creative pioneering. I hope this article can also be an encouragement to older church leaders who sense their call is coming to an end, but would otherwise keep on trucking despite moving on being the best thing to do. I have particularly admired men like John Coles from New Wine and Peter Nielson from the CofS, who have both left established paid roles for new things in their late careers. John went on to form a new pioneering church plant, and Peter became a consultant, willing to live outside the institutions to have the integrity needed to call younger folks to pioneer in the same way. So there you go – Ten Principles for kickstarting a new career when your time as a pioneer comes to an end. Bless you as you make the leap!

Photo by whoislimos on Unsplash

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Paul Ede

Paul Ede

Paul and his wife Esther pioneered Clay Community Church in Possilpark. He has taught Christian Mission at the Scottish Baptist College and now mentors men with a vision for pioneering.