Church healthLeadershipPersonal growth

How to know when its time to call it quits

Summer has come and it feels like everyone is on the move. Almost every day I hear of another church staff member leaving their current role and transitioning to a new assignment. At the same time a week seldom goes by that a pastor doesn’t ask if I know of any available children’s, student, worship or connection pastors. (If they could find someone to lead all four that would be awesome.) So how about you, is it time for you to leave your church and start again in a new community?

The answer is probably no, or at least not yet. Many times we move from one role to another for less than healthy reasons. We might be frustrated with leadership, tired of conflict or feeling stuck in our current role. Each of these points to unresolved issues within ourselves that need to be dealt with before we pull up stakes and move on. I have made the mistake of leaving a role because of internal issues I didn’t see or didn’t want to work on. Unfortunately when I got to my next job it turned out that I brought all of my baggage with me.

Don’t leave your current role because you’re struggling with the people you work with or because you don’t feel fulfilled in your role. A wise man once said, “How long are you going to work on what’s not the issue before you work on what is the issue?”

There are times, however, to polish up the resume and move along. Below are five situations I’ve experienced, or walked through with others, that point to a date with a realtor:

Reasons you should quit

You feel a clear call from God to a new season

Everyone feels called to do something else when things are tough, that isn’t necessarily a sign that its time to move on. A clear call, however, is a feeling that just won’t go away. You go to sleep at night thinking about your next assignment and you wake up in the morning stuck on the same thought. Your spouse is onboard, your trusted friends and mentors are on board, and you have an internal peace that now is the time. 

Leaving Seacoast Church was an incredibly tough decision. I loved, and love, the church. I had great relationships with the leaders. Almost everything I knew about ministry I learned while working at Seacoast. But Sherry and I knew that it was time for a new chapter, and everyone we talked to agreed that we were hearing from God. That may be where you are today.

You do not resonate with the church culture

Sometimes you might not fit in a particular church culture. Often it is hard to tell from the outside what the culture is like, and once you are on staff you feel trapped. In those cases its important to ask a couple of questions:

  1. What does God want to change in me through this culture?God may have you right where you need to be to shape your character into who he created you to be. Just because the culture is difficult doesn’t mean God isn’t using it to transform you.
  2. Am I in a position to change church culture?God may have you where you are to help bring health to a culture that is unhealthy. I remember having this discussion with a friend who was in a very challenging culture and considering a move. As we talked he realized that he had been brought to the church for such a time as this. He ended up staying and he has had an incredible impact on the culture of the church.
You disagree with the overall direction of the church

This is one the most significant reason to consider leaving a church. You may be in an environment where leaders are making very poor, even sinful decisions, and the church may headed in a direction that you cannot support. The first step, of course, is to talk with leaders to try to understand or resolve the issues you are struggling. If, however, you cannot get peace about what is being done and the direction being taken it is time to leave.

Do not stay at a church you don’t believe in, following leaders you don’t support, just to collect a paycheck. You and your family will be much better off if you get a job at Walmart. God is not calling you to be inauthentic in ministry, and he is not calling you to sow discord. There are times when the best thing you can do is to simply get out.

Your role is taking a significant toll on your family

There came a time in the life of my family that I had to step away from vocational ministry. Unhealthy patterns in my leadership and relationships, combined with resentment building in my wife’s heart toward ministry and toward me, almost destroyed our marriage. After months of discord I realized it was time to step away.

The mistake I made, however, was thinking stepping out of ministry would solve our challenges. We did not continue the hard work we needed to do to reach a place of health, and ended up in a worse place than before. Only through the grace of God and some excellent counselors did we finally learn how to have a healthy marriage and a healthy ministry.

(You can read more about our journey in ministry and marriage in our new book, Together: A guide for couples in ministry)

If your family is suffering because of your role at a church you need to seriously evaluate whether it is time to step away. If you do leave, however, don’t repeat my mistake. Get the help you need to rebuild your marriage and family.

Two final pieces of advice as you are considering making a move. The first comes from a mentor who told me, “Opportunity is often temptation in disguise.” Just because you have another opportunity doesn’t mean its time to leave.

The second piece of advice comes from years and years of ministry and life; it is almost always too soon to quit. Unless one of the reasons above really resonates for you hang in there. God is still at work.

A decision to stay or go is always tough. If you’d like someone to process with don’t hesitate to email me at geoff@ministrytogether.com and let’s talk.

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