A few months ago my family and I made the most difficult decision to leave our current church and move three hours away to a community that we had never heard of when I accepted a call to pastor a different church. It was an agonizing decision because we truly loved our church and the people; we even told the search committee from the prospective church twice that we were not interested in leaving; however, they continued to patiently pursue us. We came to understand that God was moving us, but we truly struggled over this decision. It was not because we didn’t think God was leading us there; it was because we had a deep love for the church we were serving.
We invested four years of our life there, and they and they invested in us. We were happy where we were, and I think they were happy with us being there. We made great relationships with the people and community and were slowly seeing things “come together.” Honestly, we did not want to move.
A lot of pastors and replanters struggle with knowing and sensing God’s leadership regarding when it is time to move on. While my story is not like everyone’s, here are a few questions I began to ask during our process.
1. Where is my heart?
Let’s be honest: a ton of guys confuse the difficulties of replanting with God’s “call” to look for somewhere else to go. While I know replanting a church is difficult, difficulty doesn’t mean God is calling you to leave. Ministry is hard, and if you cannot deal with the tough nature of ministry where you are, do not fool yourself into thinking that somewhere else will be easier. Examining the motives of my heart before the Lord brought clarity and peace. If you discover that you are considering leaving because ministry is currently difficult, it might not be the time to consider leaving.
2. Where is my ministry?
Sometimes pastors think that since there is no visible fruit, then this is proof that God wants you to leave. This is also foolish and unwise because it puts you in the role of the Holy Spirit. Be realistic in evaluating your ministry, let God reveal to you where He wants you to improve. Sometimes it is only by reflecting on your ministry that you can truly get an accurate picture of your ministry. Looking at the big picture, rather than the details, can allow you to regroup and quiet your heart and retune it to the Spirit. Make sure you are ministering fully where you are before you look at leaving. As the great Jim Elliot once said, “wherever you are, be all there.”
3. What about my family?
Where is your family in this? God provided resources from multiple sources, allowing me to serve where I was because he was taking care of my family financially. The church loved my family. They tolerated me, but they loved my family! Ultimately, my family believed God was moving us which made it easier to go. It is important to weigh a call with your family. Your wife will help in making the best assessment of what is at stake with your family whether you stay or leave. Make sure that you are prayerfully considering the implications that a move or deciding to stay will have on your family.
4. Am I staying engaged?
Churches, for all of their flaws, need committed pastors to serve and lead them. This is God’s calling on our lives. In spite of the difficult nature of pastoral ministry, I would urge you to stay focused on ministry where you are until God’s plan is more evident. Whenever that happens prepare for whatever comes next but in the meantime, do not neglect your calling to shepherd the church you pastor. Love them. Stay faithful where you are.
5. Has God granted us freedom to leave?
In the end, we decided to move. Not because we were frustrated (any more than the normal frustrations of ministry) or because I was tired (although I was; I was a bivocational pastor working sometimes 80+ hours a week) or because of finances or any other combination of things (God was faithful). We left because God made it evident. Despite the clear direction of God in this process, we still wept. We still were heartbroken to leave because we deeply loved our folks at Corinth Baptist Church. When we finally packed up that last box and locked the door behind us we closed a chapter in our lives that we will always cherish. As I write this, I am literally trying to keep back the tears as I am reminded of the great times that we shared, but I am also overjoyed with God’s hand in our new ministry at First Baptist Leakesville, Mississippi.
Too often when you are looking ahead at the new ministry, you can easily forget about the past one. Remember the things and lessons that you have learned. Remember the relationships that you have made. Be honored and humbled that God would chose men like us to lead and serve churches!
Pastors, the labor that we engage in is not for the faint of heart. But it is so very worth it. Stay committed. Check your heart. Lovingly shepherd your folks. Be faithful where you are in preparing for where you might end up.
Published September 1, 2017