In the past few weeks, several pastor readers have asked my thoughts about when it’s time to leave a church. Based on my own experience as a pastor, my interviews with pastors, and my interaction with churches over the years, here are some of my more positive thoughts. Tomorrow, I will deal with a few negative reasons to leave a church.
- You’ve been walking faithfully with God, and you and your spouse believe it’s time. Note my caveats here. First, your walking faithfully with God in your Bible study, prayer, and holiness is critical to understanding God’s calling. If you’re not accustomed to hearing and following God in faithfulness, why would you think you hear Him properly now? Second, I’d be much more inclined to prepare for a move if my equally faithful spouse senses the time may be right.
- You are experiencing both a “push” and a “pull.” There may be times when you experience a “push” from one church without a clear “pull” to another specific position, but having both seems to be an indication that God may be up to something. Even a few details about the “pull” (like God’s saying to Abram, “Go to a city I will show you”) can be enough to take a step in the right direction.
- You seem to have maximized your leadership capacity or have been pushed outside your leadership interests. All of us can learn to lead better, but many of us excel in particular types and sizes of churches. For example, some pastors I know love shepherding a congregation whose names they know and whose lives they deeply share. Others are more gifted to invest in a few leaders who invest in others. It’s not always wrong – in fact, it may be good – to conclude, “Given the way God has wired me, the future of this church may be stronger with another leader.”
- You’ve reached a new level or focus of training. While this point may seem to contradict #3 above, that’s not my intention. It’s simply that sometimes our increased training prepares us for a new role. I knew, for instance, that teaching in addition to pastoring was part of my future when I finished my doctoral training.
- The Lord has called you to the nations. Many pastors have left the local church to go where the gospel has not gone – to become missionaries. Their previous pastoral experience, in fact, proved pivotal when building cross-cultural teams.
- Godly people you trust agree with a move. Mentors and advisors cannot make the final decision for you, but the decision should be easier if faithful men and women stand behind your choice. That means, by the way, that you have to involve others in the decision.
- The door is open to expand your kingdom influence. I’m not inclined to rely on open doors as a determinant for God’s will, but it’s good to ask if a move will allow you to increase your witness for Christ. And, by the way, a bigger kingdom influence does not always mean a bigger church . . . .
- You have no unresolved conflicts in your current place of ministry, and still you believe God is moving you. Frankly, it’s easier to “sense” God’s leading to move when you’re angry with people. When you have no immediate reason to leave but still you lean in that direction, it may be time to listen more intently.
Tomorrow I will deal with eight more signs. Join us then.