8 Signs It May be Time to Leave Your Church

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.   

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.” 
  4. 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.
  5. 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. 
  6. 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.
  7. 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 . . . .
  8. 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.

12 Comments

  • Jim says:

    1.) This assumes pastors are a vocation that should move around like other jobs….

    2.) With exception of the nations missionary reason I would be very hesitant to accept any of these.

    3.) 3 and 4 are a bit ridiculous in the ego realm…really?

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Both #3 and #4 could be egotistical, but neither one necessarily is. Thanks for your thoughts, Jim.

  • Robert Neiman says:

    You listed in #3 …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.
    Chuck – Are you concluding that “more gifted” pastors are the ones who invest in a few leaders thus, in other words, are referring to (Senior or Lead) pastors at larger churches? I beg to differ. Often it is the large church pastor that is the “LESSER gifted” pastor simply because he has little or no relational skills when it comes to shepherding people individually. He speaks wonderfully and can command attention… but outside of that his gifting stops.

    Have to say I wholeheartedly agree with the second part of Jim’s comment concerning the ego realm.

    A 1999 graduate of SEBTS…

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Robert. I’m not concluding anything about church size in #3. I’m simply making the point that pastors are gifted differently, and God uses all different types in different  churches. I know pastors of smaller churches who primarily invest in a few, and I know pastors of larger churches who are wired to know everyone. I’ve known leaders of small churches who moved to larger ones, and leaders of large churches who moved to smaller ones — all recognizing that God was moving them. I appreciate your concern about the ego issue, too, though I still contend that ego is not automatically an issue in the cases noted. Hope you enjoyed your time at SEBTS! 

  • Ray Odiorne says:

    It would be disingenuous to omit those of us who leave because we are pushed out (I.e., fired) for reasons that have little or nothing to do with us or our ministry. God was good, and I landed where God intended me to be, but it still leaves someone with difficult issues, and congregations with unresolved problems.

  • LJ Jr says:

    This is very good and a confirmation of what we believe God is doing in our lives. Thank you for this!

  • Jenifer says:

    Wow! Good reasons for lay people to move to another church also!

  • Pingback: Discord

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.