|In replanting, we have a recurring theme. We say the four things you must do as a replanter is preach, pray, love and stay.
Each of these is important for its own reasons, but you’ll hear us often say that the last one is key. Church replanting is not fast work. It takes time. And it takes a pastor who will stick around through some really hard days.
But times and situations do arise when it’s time to leave. The key for pastors, then, is recognizing those times and not pulling the trigger too soon or – in some cases – too late.
Let me preface this by saying I believe our default position should be to stay. The old saying, “Grow where you’re planted” is really, really good advice. God has placed you in the church where you are serving, in the community where you serve, and in the neighborhood where you live for a purpose. So we should assume that, until the Lord makes it abundantly clear it’s time to go, we are meant to be right where we are.
So, what are some situations when it makes sense for a pastor to leave his current church?
— When your mental, spiritual, physical, or emotional health are at stake.
Let’s be honest, pastoring is hard work. It can be emotionally and physically draining (especially in 2020). Pushing through this is part of the perseverance part of ministry. Don’t leave just because things get difficult. But there are times when, for the sake of your own health, it’s probably wise to step away from that particular church. And there are times when stepping away from ministry as a whole for a season is appropriate.
— When the state your family is at stake.
There is always another man who can accept a call to pastor the church. There is no one else who is called to be a husband to your wife and a father to your children. Ministry is important, but your family is more important.
Again, I don’t think the default position is, “Well, this is hard on our family, so we need to leave.” But there are times when a church becomes so toxic that it may be actively harming your family. If your church refuses to allow you to place family first, or if some are actively attacking your wife and children, it might be time to move on for the good of your family. It’s important to remember that you, as a pastor, can always find another church to serve, but if you lose your family, you lose your ministry too.
— When God makes it exceedingly, abundantly clear that He’s calling you elsewhere.
I hesitated to put this one on here, but I think it is important to not only give negative reasons to leave a church. Sometimes, God really does open the door to a new season of ministry. But, once again, I believe these times are rare.
As I look back on the 15 years I’ve served in full-time ministry, I see one church that I left for the first reason I mentioned above. I was at the end of my rope, and I was quickly approaching the place where I needed to leave that church or I would probably leave ministry altogether. I also can see at least one church that I left too soon. I’ve been guilty of accepting a position just because it was a bigger church with a bigger salary (BTW, two years later, I found myself in the position I just described. I learned a major lesson there).
Before I moved to my current position as pastor at First Baptist Church in Alamogordo, New Mexico, I was serving as pastor at a church in Clayton, New Mexico, that we absolutely loved. I was beginning to feel a bit restless, but I was not actively looking to move. Then FBC Alamogordo was brought to my attention out of the blue.
During this season, I had a mentor share a great piece of advice with me: “If it’s time to go, God doesn’t need your help to make that happen.” So I didn’t send out a truckload of resumes. When I began to feel restless, I started praying a lot. If we were meant to stay in Clayton, I told God I was content with that; if it was time to go, I prayed that God would make it very clear. Over the course of a couple of months at the end of 2015, He did just that.
So, pastor, I always will encourage you to find every reason to stay at your current church. Make staying your default position. But sometimes it becomes clear that it’s time to go.
One final note of encouragment: if you’re on the verge of leaving for one reason or another, don’t make this decision alone. Seek input from fellow pastors, mentors and, of course, your wife. If you need someone to talk through a really tough situation with, please reach out to the Replant Team at [email protected] It would be our joy to talk and pray with you through an especially difficult season of ministry.
Published October 7, 2020