the shape of leadership

Should I Stay, or Should I Go?

Four questions to ask before making a ministry change

Chris Colvin on January 28, 2020

Pastors change churches. That’s been the case for a long time. Many senior pastors started in an associate role and eventually moved up or planted a new church.

Today, that process seems to be less organic in nature. Staffing consultants assist churches with filling lead positions. And websites offer easy access to pastors looking for new jobs.

Why do pastors change churches? It’s sometimes an issue of size. A pastor may want to move from a small church or community to a larger one, or one that has greater prospects for growth. Or it could be the opposite, with a staff member leaving a megachurch to lead a smaller congregation.

There are other, more practical reasons as well. Perhaps a pastor wants to move closer to an aging relative or relocate to be near a child going away to college. Maybe a pastor moves for better pay or more resources.

Any of these factors can influence the decision making process. However, if you are contemplating moving on to another pastoral position, there are some basic questions to work through prayerfully. Here are four important considerations:

1. Am I released? Before you leave, seek a release from your current position. This should begin with discernment and careful prayer. The Holy Spirit will give you peace in your heart if it’s time to leave. Otherwise, you may feel a check that you are not yet released.

Ask God to show you whether you’ve finished the mission He sent you to fulfill. What are you leaving unfinished? What part of the church’s vision has not been accomplished? Perhaps someone else will finish what you started. Then again, you may be the best person for that job.

Unfinished tasks can be frustrating. You may feel you’ve tried over and over again with no success. Before you move on, though, think about how you can shift your vision to accommodate your current position. Did you shoot too high? Did you not take into account the church’s methods and values? You might find new energy to give it another go before moving on to another church.

2. How will this affect my family? While your family may not be a motivating factor in a position change, a move will affect them. Therefore, you should always include them in the discussion.

If you are married, start with your spouse. What goals does your spouse have that may be put on hold due to the move? How will moving affect his or her career or social circle?

If you are uprooting your family, selling your home, and moving to a new place just to avoid a problem, you will likely find new problems.

You will also need to consider your parents or extended family. Do you have a relative who depends on you? If so, can that person move along with you, or will you need to find someone else to provide care?

Children will likely get the most attention. How will changing schools affect their education and athletics, as well as their friendships? What does the new church offer for families that may be a gain for your kids? Remember, bigger is not always better. So do your homework, and look at it from all angles.

3. What are the real reasons I’m leaving? There may be some underlying reasons for wanting to leave other than just the stated purpose. We often stay when things are going great and leave when they are not. That’s just human nature. So be open and transparent with yourself and those closest to you about the reasons you want to move on. What are the major problems? List them out.

Take ownership of these issues. What problems are up to you to fix? What steps have you taken to work them out? For the problems that are out of your control, have you allowed your church a chance to address them? If not, give them some time to come up with solutions before making the call to leave.

I recall one time I decided to leave a staff position at a church, partly due to financial constraints. The day I turned in my notice of resignation, the pastor said, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting this. We were actually getting ready to offer you a promotion with better pay.”

At that time, I had already felt released from my position, and there were other considerations that outweighed finances. But the point is, if I were leaving solely because of pay, I would have been making a bad decision.

The grass is not always greener; of course, sometimes is. But if the problems you have at your current church are due to a lack of inflexibility on your part or an unwillingness to own up to your mistakes, you’ll probably take them with you to that next position.

4. Am I running from something or to something? Let’s assume you’ve honestly assessed all your reasons for wanting to leave. You feel confident that you have addressed any potential problems. But you still feel like it’s time to go. Here is one more question to ask: Are you running away from something or running to something?

The correct answer is almost always the latter. If you are uprooting your family, selling your home, and moving to a new place just to avoid a problem, you will likely find new problems. But if you are excited about fresh opportunities, looking forward to new challenges, and can’t wait to start on your next stage of ministry, then you’re probably on the right path.

Over the next 12 months, you may be tempted to update your resume, talk to a friend about a church opening, and browse websites looking at job postings. There are lots of potential reasons for doing this. Some of them are fine, but others are wrong. Before you make that final decision to stay or go, make sure you are doing it with the right heart and for the right reasons.

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