Knowing When To Leave

Should you make a ministerial move? That is what Calvin Ritz terms, “The Loneliest Choice of All” in the opening chapter of When It’s Time to Move. It is often a dilemma that must be resolved at those crucial change-points in life.

David was at a point like that when he admitted his need of God’s guidance. His prayer in Psalm 25:4 pleads, Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths. Discovering spiritual direction must always begin in earnest prayer time with the Lord.

In the ensuing verse David prays, Guide me in your truth and teach me…. He seeks guidance both instructionally (“your truth”) and directionally (‘your paths”). In ministry these dual needs require openness to knowing and going as God gives light. Perhaps you are in a quandary about whether to leave your present ministry. How can you know what God’s path is?

Note a striking relationship between these two guidance requirements. How does God instruct you in His Truth? Careful study coupled with spiritual illumination is God’s instructional plan.

As in sermon preparation, to be well-led, you must be well-read. Study carefully what the human factors reveal. Depend upon the Spirit and the Word to give spiritual understanding. The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out (Proverbs 18:15).

With absolute assurance, the Psalmist rejoices that He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way… He will instruct him in the way chosen for him (Psalm 25:9, 12).

To help you evaluate whether a move would be wise or otherwise, ponder these searching and perhaps searing questions.

  1. Is your flock harmonious or acrimonious?

Webster’s definition of the latter term is “Bitingly hostile in language or tone.” Is any of that apparent in your church?

There is a poignant word in Proverbs 27:23 for spiritual shepherds: Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds.

How do you assess your flock? If there is increasing hostility instead of harmony, there is probably also plummeting morale–on both sides of the pulpit.

If that is occurring, it may indicate that a man with different ministry skills is needed. And probably you need to move on before it worsens or before it affects your capacity to minister elsewhere. Some pastors overstay their situation until they go into an emotional tailspin or their families sustain serious consequences.

  1. Is your rapport strong or wrong?

If there is a significant number of people whose cooperation or support you no longer have–despite your noblest efforts at peace making–it probably suggests that you ought to begin the process of uprooting.

If your base of support among the leadership has continued to erode and can’t be offset by adjustments within your capability, that speaks loud and clear about leaving. It should not be necessary for a board to have to show you the door! A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it (Proverbs 22:3).

  1. Is your vision holding or folding?

Recall the hopes and goals with which you embarked on your present ministry. If your major objectives have been realized or if planning future goals is dimmed by uncertainty, it suggests the likelihood that the Giver of visions seeks to transplant you to a new place with a new perspective. Opposition with open doors can be bearable, but not when doors of opportunity seem to be closing. Paul stayed at Ephesus because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me (1Corinthians 16:9). Just as people perish without a vision, so do pastors!

  1. Is your enthusiasm being maintained or drained?

Excitement can cool until a man is devoid of the fire and force that once motivated him.

If this spiritual and emotional drain has taken its toll on you, you cannot minister effectively.

You will likely burn out instead of hold out. All kinds of fresh attempts will only deepen frustration, if God is nudging you to move on.

Remember Elijah at Horeb? He had run until, like a clock, he had run down. He needed that special touch from God of rewinding & reassigning.

The prophet’s experience raises a crisis consideration that may perplex you. Should a pastor resign if another call has not come? To leave the ministry risks questions and may complicate reentry. Like marriage, it should not be done “lightly or unadvisedly”. But, if your well-being or that of the church signals a need to leave before another call comes, then do it in faith. Don’t imperil yourself, your family or your flock by prolonged delay. To be forced out is far more damaging than to step out.

What will you do? How will your family survive? How will you ever reenter Christian service?

First Kings 19 stands as a landmark of God’s sustaining and retraining for future service. A time of alternate employment can be a valuable hiatus of healing as you await new orders from Heaven.

  1. Is your potential tapped or capped?

In the evaluation process, review your spiritual gifts and desires.

In his correspondence with Timothy, Paul included two practical thoughts about this matter. In

1 Timothy 4:14: Do not neglect your gift… and in 2 Timothy 1:6: Fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you….

Are you being limited in using essential gifts that God has given you? Are you expected to perform well in tasks where you are not gifted? You may need to pursue a new ministry where your potential could be maximized. There is no greater stress than being captive to circumstances that douse the flame of spiritual desire. Your gifts should be usable not useless, worked not wasted.

If you sense it may be time to consider a move, the Mission Northeast Resource Center seeks to be God’s instrument in counsel and referral. Download and complete the Pastoral Information Form on our website to begin the process. Complete instructions are included on the form. We look forward to serving you.

I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future…. Isaiah 29:11

Do not fret and lose your patience, If He bids you sit and wait; In His own kind, loving manner He will open another gate. — W R. Elliott