After nearly 22 years as a pastor, Barry Holcomb found himself facing a forced resignation.
Immediately, the world turned upside down for Barry and his wife, Kathi.
What was the next step? Who could the Holcombs turn to for guidance? What did God want to teach them through this situation? There was an endless list of questions with no immediate answers.
“I had not committed any immoral act worthy of dismissal, yet Kathi and I found ourselves with two options — resign or be terminated,” explained Holcomb, who with his wife now leads Remember the Way, a ministry that helps couples find their way back to fruitful ministry after an unexpected termination.
“The experience was painful and life changing, affecting our entire family,” he noted. “We now believe the Lord allowed us to go through that season to transform us.”
Many ministers have only experienced love and appreciation from their church families. Some may walk through moments of conflict from time to time, and others may find themselves facing a forced resignation or termination.
These pastors and their families find themselves isolated, hurt and discouraged. Depression is also a real possibility.
Early on, Holcomb was sure of God’s calling to serve as a pastor.
He moved forward in preparation, graduated from Auburn University and obtained a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
Several years later, Holcomb served as chairman of the board of trustees for the North American Mission Board. He also served as president of the Alabama Baptist Pastors Conference and as a trustee for Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center in Talladega, Alabama.
His experience as a pastor brought opportunities to serve congregations in Alabama and Mississippi and to network with other pastors and staff. He received discipleship from and was closely connected with Al Jackson, pastor emeritus of Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, Alabama.
As a pastor, Holcomb had wonderful experiences in ministry, and Kathi loved serving with him and using her teaching gifts in women’s ministry. Today, he calls it the “subtle seductions of ministry” when it appears that everything is about the experiences and positions of influence.
Then came the unexpected.
Any pastor and his family who has gone through a similar situation understands the vast array of emotions that follow.
What is the next step when the fog settles in and doesn’t want to lift?
The Holcombs would answer, “Seek the Lord.”
When Holcomb first heard the Lord speaking through Deuteronomy 8:2–3, he prepared for an extended period of prayer and fasting.
‘Humbled and hungry’
“I assumed God was confirming my anticipated fast by reassuring me that He allowed His own to experience hunger,” he said. “What I missed was the critical message that God was preparing me to be humbled.
“The Father allowed me to be humbled and hungry, and through it taught me the importance of trusting His word when I could not find my own way. I often wondered if God remembered where I was or if I would find my way back to fruitful ministry. It took me seven years of ‘wandering in the wilderness’ to see how He led me every step of the way.
During this time frame, “God assured me that I would someday remember the way He faithfully led me through this wilderness walk with its questions and struggles,” he said.
There were tremendous decisions that had to be made in the weeks that followed the termination.
The top priority was working through the adjustments for the entire family. It would take time to work through the experience, deal with the emotions and have a heart of forgiveness.
Therefore, Holcomb did not send out resumés to find another church. He knew he was not ready to be a pastor at this season of his life. A time of healing was needed.
Instead, Holcomb continued to meditate on the passage in Deuteronomy. He realized this was a time of spiritual preparation for the present and the future.
It was God’s testing period, humbling him to see what was in his heart. Would he remain faithful to keep God’s commands and depend upon His word and provision?
The Holcombs didn’t want to move their children, Nathan and Abigail, from their schools. They also had their own house, so they decided to stay where they were currently living even though it would be complicated and challenging.
Everything changed, especially their identity within the community.
And where would they now go to church?
Who would minister to the minister and his family?
God provided for them spiritually, emotionally and physically through it all.
“There is nothing wrong with being humbled,” Holcomb said. “It’s a necessary component of a Christ-follower’s life. We learned His truths through suffering, and we learned to depend upon the Word for everything. We saw God’s hand providing for us in so many ways. We have so many God stories we could share.”
Kathi noted, “When this situation happened, my first instinct was to support Barry and protect our children. At this point in our lives, it was the hardest thing we had to go through. I was in the Word, journaling and praying. Also, a situation like this often puts a tremendous strain on marriages. It brought us closer, as we depended upon each other for spiritual and emotional support.”
The main lesson the Holcombs believed God was teaching them focused on God sending them. It wasn’t about a church calling them to serve.
“It isn’t about a man-directed path, but God’s,” Holcomb said. “If He wanted me to serve as a pastor in a church again, He would control the situation and send me.”
Kathi wrote the following entries in her journal: “My heart had been pricked by John 3:27, which said, ‘A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.’ This verse was a reminder that it is God alone who provides ministry opportunities. God would provide that opportunity for us as well.
“My heart was also touched by Romans 10:13–17. Verse 15 stood out to me, saying, ‘And how shall they preach unless they are sent?’ My perspective on ministry changed at that moment as I prayed that Barry and I would not wait on any man to provide ministry opportunities, but for the Lord to send us where He would place us for His glory and service.
“I prayed that we would receive what God would give from heaven and go wherever He would send us.”
God answered their prayers and sent them to Calvary Baptist Church in Belmont, Mississippi, in January 2019 — a new church in a new state. Holcomb serves as pastor, and Kathi serves with discipleship groups and women’s ministry.
“We had finally come home,” said Kathi after they moved into their new home in Belmont. She developed a ministry for women called Home to Heart. She shares through blogging, leading Bible studies, women’s ministry and writing.
Time of transition
Out of their wilderness experience came their new ministry for ministers and their spouses who find themselves in a painful transition. The concept for Remember the Way, based on Deuteronomy 8:2–3, records the instruction from the Lord as the people of Israel prepared to enter the promised land after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.
Through their ministry, the couple offers personal retreats, Zoom conferences, speaking and conference ministries for churches and associations as well as other resources.