The world is changing. It’s changing in many ways, but one of the things that shocks me most as I work with young pastors is the transitory nature of people, families, and jobs these days.
Only a few years ago, it would not be uncommon for a person to find a job with a company or church they loved and stay with that church or company for decades. These days, the average life of a pastor at his church lasts 8 years (and that statistic is for a senior pastor, not even the pastoral staff).
Things are changing; it’s much more likely a young pastor today will change churches and positions several times during their career.
So how do you decide when it’s time to leave?
Is more money a reason to leave? A better opportunity? A promotion? A desire to live in a different part of the country or world? A bigger/smaller church? Boredom? Burnout? Problems at your current church?
None of these are bad reasons. These are all the reasons I hear pastors say they are leaving their church in search of something better. But they’re also strikingly similar to the reasons I hear anyone say they’re leaving one job for a new job.
And aside from the fact I think we have the tendency to be naive about the “greener pastures” on the other side, I also know ministry comes with its own set of nuances, rewards, and difficulties. I think we have to view ministry a little differently.
Here are three questions I think we need to ask before leaving a church.
1. Am I as willing to stay as I am to leave?
One piece of advice I would give to young pastors (well, anyone really, but especially young pastors) is this: Live your life with the posture of an unconditional “yes” to Jesus and you will be happier, more fulfilled, and less anxious. Your desperation to make something of yourself or “be somebody” will diminish.
You’ll realize you don’t need to “be somebody” you just need to be with somebody and that somebody is Jesus.
Are you listening to His voice? Do you know what He is calling you to do? Are you willing to go anywhere he is calling you—even if that somewhere is right here?
There’s such an unexpected beauty in listening to the call of Jesus and wholeheartedly agreeing with what He tells you. He not only has your best interest in mind, but also the best interest of everybody around you. He has incredible plans for you (Jeremiah 29:11). Give him permission to bring those plans into being.
2. Am I leaving out of selfish ambition?
Ask yourself if you’re leaving your current situation because you really feel God is calling you somewhere else or because you feel like it’s “the next big step” in your career. Sometimes, God calls us to take “the next big step” in our lives and careers. He calls us to get married, to have kids, to plant churches and start ministries.
But sometimes, he calls us to stay—to plant roots and go deep with people.
If he’s calling you to stay and you keep running, keep chasing something “better”, you’ll regret it later. You’ll miss out on all the beauty and joy he has to offer.
3. Am I running away?
Speaking of running, there can be a temptation to run away from your current church because there are so many problems. All you want to do is go find a church without all those crazy problems. I understand the feeling, but I liken the strategy to someone who wants to leave a marriage in search of a better marriage.
You can search and search for a better marriage or a better church, but I think what you’ll find is simply a different set of problems to deal with.
Every church has problems. Every church has conflict. Every church has drama and gossip and people who write angry emails.
The question is this: what are you doing to shift the atmosphere?
Are you part of the solution or part of the problem?
photo: Mike McCune, Creative Commons