Note: I wrote this for Benjamin Vrbicek’s new book Don’t Just Send A Resume: How to Find the Right Job in a Local Church.
As I sat across the table from the lead pastor of a hiring church, I expected him to articulate how much he was looking forward to having me on the team and how dynamic my leadership would be at their church. In many ways, the interview process and expediency of it was building an expectation within my mind that I would be offered the job. Why else would they run this fast through the process with me? Surely they had found their guy.
But it was with half a bite of burger in my mouth that the undesired and fatal verdict was spoken. “Jeremy, you’re a nice guy, but honestly you are a huge risk for what we need on our leadership team right now. I don’t think you’d be a good fit here. We’re going to have to say no, but thank you for walking with us through this process.” The burger felt like lead in my stomach at that point. I had been told “no,” and the search process for my dream job was over.
Yes, I’ll admit that I was very disappointed to hear “no,” but over the years (and after many more “nos”) I’ve come to see that hearing a “no” is not necessarily a denial of your skill and gifting as much as it is a gift from God to keep you on the path of faith, trusting that he is the one who ordains our places and paths in ministry. While rejections can be deflating, they can also be a means of grace whereby God guides you to a season of ministry that better fits your gifting and competence in ministry. Here are three lessons I’ve found to be helpful for my heart after hearing a “no.”
Believe the gospel
First, I must believe the gospel. It’s tempting to let our identities get wrapped up in our vocations. We can build our hearts on the approval of others. Not being offered a position we sought after can chip away at our self-built identities and affirmations. This is why we need to deeply remember the gospel.
The gospel reminds us that our identity and value aren’t built on what we do or the titles we possess. Christ is our hope—not the dream job we’ve pursued. We are no less sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ because we were not hired and heard a Divine “no.” As the hymn writer Edward Mote taught us to sing, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Believe that good news!
Minister right where you are.
Remember the man in the Bible who applied for Jesus’s school of discipleship almost immediately after being healed from demon possession? He was ready to follow Jesus anywhere and do anything for him. Personally, I would have thought this man was the ideal candidate for my ministry school. The healed man was passionate, available, and loyal. Yet Jesus told him “no.”
Instead, the man was instructed to stay at home and tell his community how God had been merciful to him. In the midst of receiving a “no,” he was redirected to labor for the gospel right where he’d always been (see Mark 5:18–20).
Hearing a “no” from one church doesn’t mean we should quit the ministry. Rather, it helps us to be active and faithful right where God has us currently. In the divine providence of God, the work he has placed right in front of us is more pressing than the dreams of greener pastures and more influential platforms of ministry that we might have been longing to be commissioned into. Hearing a “no” should refocus us on the task at hand.
Depend on God
The most challenging thing about hearing a “no” is trying to figure out why we were not offered a desired position. Our motivations can feel pure and our goals right in wanting to glorify God and use our gifts for the building of the kingdom, but when we hear a “no” we are often frustrated that God isn’t apparently on the same page with us.
If we believe that God orders our steps (Ps 139:16) and that he has prepared good works ahead of time for us to do (Eph 2:10), then we can rest confident that a “no” is ultimately for our good and for his glory. If our heavenly Father only gives good gifts, then we can trust his gracious hand to send us exactly where he sees fit to glorify himself and advance his gospel. The goodness of God has not abandoned us.
Looking for a ministry position is one of the most difficult vocational actions, but it is superintended by a loving God for our good. The “nos” are hard to hear, but it is these hard providences that cause us to look all the more for his glad smile.