Difficult decisions: Deciding to go

By Bob Bickford

We should never presume to definitively know that God’s call on a pastor’s tenure has come to an end for his serving a particular congregation. We can’t know as God knows or see as God sees. Yet, as outside consultants or observers, as friends, or even as a close confidant, we may have sensed that a brother could be hanging on when he should be letting go and moving on to a new assignment or retirement.

The fact is this: For some pastors it is time to go; it may even be past time to depart.

There are myriad reasons why pastoral tenure may extend beyond God’s blessing that local assignment.  And there are a number of signs that should be heeded — signs that indicate it is probably time to move on.

Brother pastor, if any of these signs are true for you, prayerfully consider moving on for the sake of the gospel and the good of the church.

Go: When you no longer have vision

Vision is critical in church leadership and pastoral ministry. Beyond the gospel mandate that is the mission of every church, the vision of “how” your particular church will carry out that mission in your context is life-giving. If your vision has grown dim, if it consists of simply facilitating another worship gathering, if your vision is nothing more than attending committee meetings and preaching another sermon, and if you have sought to rekindle it and have nothing, it could be time to go.

Go: When you cannot or won’t address conflict

Pastoring involves conflict; no way around that reality. For some the battle has been too strong for too long, leaving them with no capacity or ability to do the work of exhorting, correcting and rebuking in love and with grace by the power of the Holy Spirit.  If you cannot bring yourself to confront and exhort when and where necessary, it could be time to go.

Go: When you’re hanging on for the people

Pastors are charged with loving, feeding, and caring for God’s people. This is what Jesus has called pastors to do. Our care for God’s people may require coming to grips with the difficult realization that being obedient to Jesus means we release them to His care as the Chief Shepherd. He can protect them, feed them, guide them, and watch over them far better than we can. Pastor, Jesus may be calling you to depart so the church will seek Him with greater passion and purpose.

Go: When you’re only there for a paycheck

The majority of pastors I know aren’t pastoring for the money, yet some pastors I know are remaining as pastors because of the money. Meager resources and an uncertain housing future might handcuff pastor and people to one another, even though effective ministry and a vibrant call ended long ago. Pastor, God knows what you need; he can provide. If you are hanging on simply because you need a paycheck, you are not pastoring out of love but for personal gain. Repent, let go, and trust God. He is faithful.

Go: When those who love you say it’s time

Wise mentors and counselors always ask “What does your wife say?” Pastor, if you are married, your spouse is the primary source of insight about you, your ministry, and your well being. I’ve met pastor after pastor whose wife is saying or has said long ago that it’s time to go. Pastor, listen to your wife and hear her out. God can use her to speak powerfully into your life.

Go: When you’re just biding your time

It’s difficult to say and harder to accept that if you’re just waiting for “something” to happen while doing nothing to lead or move forward, you should go. One of the most challenging conversations I had recently was with a pastor who didn’t want to lead, didn’t want to confront, was ignoring the counsel of his wife (who told him it was time to leave), and was hanging on simply because the pay was OK and he had nowhere to go. He was stuck, miserable, and didn’t know what to do. I encouraged him to speak with a trusted deacon and ask for a severance and move on. He did, and the church and he are both better for it.

Pastor, you may need to stay, but you also may need to go. Don’t despair, get stuck in a rut, and do nothing. Trust God to help you discern your steps and act obediently.,

Published March 5, 2019

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Bob Bickford

Bob Bickford is a Replant Pastor in suburban St. Louis, serves as the Associate Director of Replant for the North American Mission Board and is the co-author of Am I a Replanter,  Pathways to Partnership and the Associational Replanting Guide. Follow Bob on twitter @bobick