I once shared with a mentor that I did not believe my ministry context at the time was going to be a long-term assignment. I had only been there a year or two, so I assured him that I planned to stay for at least five years. To my surprise, he quickly asked me, “Why?” I expected him to affirm my willingness to commit to a respectable tenure. Instead, he helped me see that I had picked an arbitrary timeline without considering what God might be doing with me or the church.
Is it time to leave?
The impulse to leave emerges for many reasons. After leading the church through a major building campaign, you may feel like you need a fresh start. When the church culture is combative, you may want to move on to greener pastures. Even when you have been effective, you can feel like your leadership gifts might be put to better use in a different setting: somewhere more urban, less traditional, etc.
Today, the question of leaving a ministry position must be considered against the backdrop of an emotionally and spiritually draining pandemic. Much has been written about the “great resignation” happening in the American workforce. Employees everywhere are tired. They desperately long for a more sustainable pace of life. Even when pastors don’t question their calling, they may have questions about how they want to work:
- Do I need to leave this church to protect my health or sustain my family?
- Will the theological gap between me and the church keep us from doing fruitful ministry together?
- Can I develop the leadership skills to offer this church what it needs to flourish?
Is it time to stay?
To remain in one congregation for the long haul, we need to have the right expectations and resources. The urge to leave should not be driven by fatigue, but rather by a new sense of your calling. If you’re being led to stay where you are, consider these questions:
- How will you keep your passion and vision fresh over time?
- How will you cultivate high-trust relationships and sustain them?
- Do you know how to discern when the church is changing, so you can adjust your leadership to fit the congregation’s needs?
Check out the following resources as you contemplate what’s next for your vocation.
Shooting the rapids: The cycles of pastoral ministry
By Dan Pietrzyk
The seven-year itch
By David L. Odom
“The Graceful Exit: A Pastor’s Journey from Good-bye to Hello”
“Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness”
Before you go…
I’ve had the privilege of serving four congregations. Each call was rooted in several factors. Each church shaped me as a leader, as a pastor and as a human being. As you discern whether to stay or leave, do not underestimate the importance of prayer. It is also crucial that you seek wise guidance. Seek out people who will take the time to ask you good questions instead of people who will give you quick answers. I pray that you will find the clarity you need and the courage to act. As always, feel free to reach out to me and the Alban Weekly team. The email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Peace and blessings!
Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity