An Open Letter to IMB Missionaries Considering the VRI:
As one who has been in a situation similar to your own I am writing to share my understanding of what is happening and what may lie ahead. After serving 21+ years with the FMB/IMB we were asked to resign for medical reasons. Leaving the field without any prospects the Lord opened up the doors for me to become the Executive Director of Tarrant (Fort Worth, TX) Baptist Association for 11+ years. After leaving that position, once again the Lord made it possible for me to serve Him as the Interim Executive Director of the Baptist Convention of Iowa for 2.5 years. In both of these last two places I worked as a transitional mentor/coach with churches looking for ministerial staff as well as with those looking to find ministerial positions.
In some cases the VRI offer has been a godsend. You have been struggling with the need to leave the field. This need may be due to the birth of a new grandchild, the illness of parents, the difficulties faced by a child transitioning back to the States, or a sense that your service overseas has come to an end. Regardless, you are pleased that someone else is asking you to do what you have been contemplating for some time. Even so, there are difficulties ahead.
For others the VRI comes as a blow. How could the organization to which you have committed yourself ask you to consider leaving? You may feel that you are just now getting your feet under you and are prepared to make a difference. If you find yourself in this situation I would strongly encourage you not to take the VRI. As the IMB moves forward with its strategy it is going to need strong effective missionaries who know the ropes and have a handle on how things are done in the areas where you minister. You are invaluable to the furtherance of God’s Kingdom. Stay put!! The retirement package may disappear and other financial “perks” may change, but God is still in control, He has called you to where you are, and He will take care of you in the future.
Churches and Stateside Ministry Opportunities
As I said in another blog the speed at which churches move in hiring ministers makes glacier seem to be moving at the speed of light. Churches are notoriously slow. What’s more, most churches are looking for some young “wonder kid” who can bring the church back from the brink of death. Those of you edging toward 65 will find it difficult to find a ministerial position. Even those of you in your prime, 50 to 55, will find it problematic. Therefore, be prepared for this to be a slow, arduous process, filled with a lot of rejection notices. Don’t give up hope, though. There are some things you can do to help the process.
If you are considering accepting the VRI go ahead and begin sending out your résumé. Make is brief (no more than two pages), highlight your missions experience, and how that will benefit the churches where you would serve. Even if you decide not to accept the VRI, it is a good exercise. If you do go ahead, four months is not enough time to get a position and the longer you wait the longer it will be before you find that ministerial position. My experience suggests that it can take a year or more to find a position. You have an advantage in that a lot of people will be helping you make the transition and a lot of churches may be open to missionaries who otherwise might not consider them. On the other hand, you also will have 500 or 600 others who have newly entered the ministerial job “market” with whom you are “competing”. I am encouraged that Mid-American is opening up their housing for up to a year to returning missionaries. I would hope that other seminaries, colleges, churches, state conventions, and associations will also help with this process.
“It is not what you know, but who you know that gets you the job.” This old saying has never been truer. Building or rebuilding your network will be critical during this time of transition. Take advantage of the social media venues to find those long lost “friends” who might be just the right person to open the door for you. Think “outside the box” as you build your network. It might not be a pastor with whom you went to seminary who opens the door, but a deacon you met in passing whose best friend is the deacon of another church looking for a pastor. Frankly, the denominational leadership (like me when I was in those positions) have limited abilities to get you into ministerial positions. They may be able to open a door or steer you in the right direction, but it will be up to you to “sell” yourself, link your other network “friends”, and create those opportunities for ministry.
Regardless of where you are in the process this is going to be traumatic for you and your family. I would encourage you to find a coach or friend that can serve in that capacity. I don’t know if anyone from the IMB will read this, but I hope that they provide ministerial coaches for these missionaries. A coach’s job is not to “solve” your problem or “tell” you what to do. Their job is to ask insightful questions which will help you discover your own solutions and paths through this difficult and traumatic period in your ministerial career. Find someone who can help make this process move much more smoothly.
If I can do anything to help my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone number is 214.499.3774.
Thomas L. Law, III
September 20, 2015
PS: I invite those who read this post to add their comments and helpful suggestion. I know I missed some important things and hopefully you can fill in the gaps. Thanks.