–April of 2002
A Time for Change
Spring is the season of promised change. Nature changes its dull lifeless winter garb for a majestic robe of dazzling color. Fresh life pushes back the old and newness abounds everywhere. Nature certainly has no monopoly on change in the months of April and May. It is also the time of year that ministers all across the country begin to ask themselves the question, “Is it time for me to make a change?” Church members, too, begin to hold their own private discussions about the “recall vote”. Though this process happens every year in thousands of churches and has been experienced by thousands of preachers, it still remains one of the toughest issues pastors and conference leaders face.
Is it really that difficult to know if the pastor should stay or go? One church leader put it like this, “It really is quite easy to derive the right answer as to whether a pastor should move or not, if you could remove all the emotional issues that surround it. Things like home, family, friends and financial security. All these make it very difficult to face up to any change that we know ought to be made.”
When Should I Consider Leaving?
1. When I know that my ministry and leadership are no longer effective.
An effective ministry must be earned, but it is also given to us by those who willingly follow. When you reach the place where people are no longer following, you are, in effect, no longer leading. When you are no longer leading, you can’t take the church where it needs to go no matter how capable you are. When your effectiveness is gone, the platform upon which you build your preaching ministry is gone. Your sermons may still be well prepared and clear, but they will not strike with force or accomplish their purpose.
2. When I no longer have a vision or a burden for the church.
When a man has no burden for the work at hand, when he ceases to dream about the future of his church, it is time to go! God pity the church which must endure a pastor with no passion for his ministry. The loss of a vision for your church becomes transparent in your conversation, administration and preaching. The joy and excitement of special days are gone. New ideas and approaches are a bother. You have no conscious strategy to build up the work. You can’t minister effectively without passion and vision.
3. When I realize that the church and I are no longer philosophically compatible.
Are you on the same wave length with the people you serve? Have you outgrown them? Have they outgrown you? Do the two of you still see ministry in the same light? Are your goals and methods in agreement? Have you made a change in values and beliefs that the church still holds dear or vice verse? If so, it is time to go.
4. When you sense that your work is finished.
God clearly sends some men to churches for a specific task. To stay beyond the completion of that task is to tear down what you built up. To remain and try to do or redo what you have already done, is to heap frustration upon the heads of your people as well as your own.
5. When I know that my credibility isn’t strong enough to stay.
Credibility is essential to ministry. You may not have done any intentional wrong and yet problems have eroded your credibility among the people. As a matter of fact, it may have been someone else’s fault altogether. Nevertheless, you still can’t minister without the confidence of the people.
6. When I know I am no longer willing to make the necessary sacrifices to see this church grow.
Somebody has to pay the price for church growth. You can pontificate all day long about lazy laymen, and it may be true, but nothing will build your church but hard work. If you aren’t willing to give the leadership, expend the energy and make the necessary sacrifices for growth, it is time for you to go.
7. When I would leave if I had some other place to go.
Many pastors and leaders would move in a heartbeat if another church or ministry would call, or if another church would call that could offer an equal financial package. In other words, they are only staying because they don’t have any place to go. I’ve watched men of God leave churches when they knew it was time to go and have to take secular employment to make it. They may have lost a parsonage and a pulpit for a while, but they certainly kept their integrity and honesty with God and the church.
8. When my attitude is no longer positive about my present church.
If you can’t feel good about your work and if your attitude is bad about the church – move!
How Do I Know Where To Go?
Obviously, we must seek clear leadership from the Spirit of God. But, there are some practical things that will help confirm the mind of God in us.
1. Does my social and cultural background fit this church?
Don’t give this point a religious snub. Disaster follows the man who goes into a situation that is out of the cultural and social context of his own ministry. The people will pick him apart, and he will begin to preach at them rather than to them. Conflict is only a matter of time. Take heed here! Finding the right fit in this area has launched some of the most long-term and successful ministries.
2. Do my particular gifts and skills fit the needs of this congregation?
When a man whose ministry style is prophetic, evangelistic, and seeker-oriented, is placed into a situation that needs a healer, the effect is the same as rubbing sandpaper on an open sore. On the other hand, when a man who is a healer goes into a situation that needs a shaker and mover, frustration will abound. A good understanding of your skills and limitations coupled with a good understanding of what a church needs will alleviate many heartaches.
3. Do I agree with these people in doctrine and practice? Do we share similar views concerning the pastor’s role in ministry?
Find out some things about the church up front. Don’t go in with a hidden agenda and think you will change it. You may only end up splitting it. Make sure you understanding and agree with their expectations of your ministry.
4. Has God confirmed this change through providence, common sense, and conviction?
Ultimately, the inner conviction given by the Holy Spirit that our going or coming is the right thing to do will be what gives us a sense of peace and clarity in any change. Yet, don’t let personal matters and fears drown His voice. Don’t ignore some practical facts that are clear to everyone else. If need be, pray for moving grace, or staying grace, whatever the occasion demands.
What If I Know I Need to Leave the Church, But Moving Seems Bad for My Family?
I’ve watched both sides of this question play out. One pastor left an idealistic country setting and moved to a large city. The timing seemed disastrous for his teenage children, but it proved, rather, to be their salvation. Another pastor left his church and relocated nearby to maintain educational continuity and friends for his teenagers. He had to leave pastoral ministry for a few years, but he kept a stable environment around his children at a crucial time in their lives and saved his family. I believe God’s will for a pastor and what is best for his family can be one and the same if we will just have the courage to do and follow God’s leadership.
Whatever you do, make sure you do not short circuit the Kingdom of God by holding on when you ought to let go, or by letting go when you ought to hold on. Change has been the fresh wind under many a tired pastor’s wings. It has also been the salvation of many a failing church.