One of the things I've learned, is that leaving ministry is much different than leaving other jobs. It affects the people around you, and it's almost as though you are leaving part of your identity behind.
Which is why I've learned that leaving ministry can be compared to coming out of the closet.
(Please note: I know that it is nothing like coming out of the closet. What I've experienced is WAY different and not as brave. However, I couldn't help but make the comparison. Also, this isn't a criticism on how people have reacted. Generally, everyone has been amazingly supportive. These are just some observations I've made.)
Some people think you are the bravest person in the world.
When talking to some friends, family members, and even co-workers, there have been people who are all:
"Good for you!"
"That is so brave!"
"You should tattoo that!"
It's pretty empowering to hear people say these things.
Then there's the other end of the spectrum...
I've had people who have been completely shocked. They've argued with me about it, tried telling me why it's a bad choice, and have said "I support you, but I don't agree with your decision."
I guess you can't please everyone.
Others aren't surprised at all.
Some of the people I'm the closest to saw it coming. Granted, there have been several conversations with my bulls-eye before making my final decision. Naturally, they knew. But there are others that when it came up they said it didn't surprise them. Not that I wasn't good at my job, but my announcement wasn't a big shocker.
While some are completely blown away.
They had no idea it was coming. They had always known me as the "youth ministry girl." From college on, this was exactly what I was going to. This was always my focus. When I announce that I'm thinking of doing something else, it totally catches them off guard.
It's telling people you're not who they thought you were.
As I said before, it's almost like changing part of your identity. Think about it. A pastor is Pastor Whatevertheirnameis. Not just their name. It's part of who they are. It's the same way in other aspects of ministry. I may not go by DCE or Youth Minister Emily, but ever since college it has been part of who I am. I was a DCE student. Part of my identity in college was what program I was in. I moved away from Chicago for my job. In the community I am in, I'm a youth minister. Even outside of my congregation, people know me as this. When sharing with people that God is pointing me in a new direction, it's a game-changer.
It is something I have had to go through as well though. For so long, I have used the "youth ministry" label to help identify myself.
Where do I go from here?
When people ask me what I do, that has always been a part of it.
Or when I think about wherever I go next and going to a church - what do I do? Will I get involved? How will I volunteer? Will I be recruited to lead certain things? Will I want to lead them?
There are so many questions and thoughts going through my mind, as well as the minds of the people around me. Maybe I'm thinking about it too much and worrying more about other people's opinions than I should be. However, if I pretend my choices don't affect others I'm naive.
So here I am, out of the youth ministry closet, waiting for whatever is next.