Top 10 Signs It’s Time for You to Leave Your ChurchWhile there are exceptions, at some point in almost every pastor’s life, the question arises: How do I know when it’s time to move on?
While long ministries are usually preferable, not everyone is supposed to remain in the same place for a lifetime. The Apostle Paul stayed at Ephesus for three years; that was apparently his longest ministry.
Given this pattern, how does a preacher know when it is time to leave?
In my view, the following are 10 signs that the time has arrived. Indeed, a combination of any three factors occurring simultaneously represents a strong indication that you should start turning some doorknobs.
Ten signs it’s time to leave:
1. Worship attendance declines for three years in a row with no reasonable explanation.Sometimes, there are valid reasons for a failure to grow.
You serve in a depressed area where most young adults have moved away. Or the main industry closed and the town’s population has declined by 30 percent. The church endured a split, and healing is painfully slow. You have started several new church plants that reduced numbers at the mother church.
Business consultant and author Jim Collins points out that mountain climbers set up base camps to allow stragglers to catch up, advance scouts to cast vision and everyone to rest. So, a pastor shouldn’t panic if attendance occasionally plateaus.
Yet, after three consecutive years of decline, it may be time to look elsewhere.
2. In a secret ballot, a third of the elders suggest it.Disharmony or lack of support at the church’s core puts you on shaky ground, making it difficult to lead effectively. If you are wondering whether it is time to leave, try asking the elders for their opinion in a secret ballot.
If you fear even asking would be a catalyst for division or unjust criticism, you may already have your answer.
3. You have made serious mistakes that severely limit your ability to lead.Noted pastor Ben Merold once said, “We’re like ships in the harbor; we all collect barnacles.” Collect too many barnacles, and they can sink you.
If you stay in one place very long, you will make mistakes with people. After all, there was only one perfect Shepherd.
Perhaps you have offended unforgiving people who won’t let it rest. Or your mistakes are so numerous and well-known that you have lost influence and can’t re-establish credibility.
Dealing with dissatisfaction.
4. You have prolonged inner feelings of dissatisfaction.You just can’t get your heart into this ministry any more. You have lost focus and passion.
Deuteronomy 32:11 teaches that an eagle “stirs up its nest” when it’s time for a baby eagle to get out and fly on its own. Sometimes the Lord stirs up our nest, urging us to move out.
5. The salary offered by the church cannot sustain you or insults you.While salary is not the primary motivation for preaching, it is still a factor. You have a responsibility to provide for your family.
Plus, salary is often a tangible indication of appreciation. Maybe a promised increase never materialized. Or your salary is significantly reduced because of shrinking offerings. Or a decade has passed since your last raise.
If so, consider moving.
6. A promising door has opened.I’m referring to an opportunity that you didn’t manipulate behind the scenes. You did not hammer doors down or pressure people into submitting your name as a candidate.
But a door has opened and you identify with Paul’s Macedonian call: “Come over and help us.”
7. You are genuinely convinced that the present ministry will do better in the long run.One reason I left Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky. when I did was because I sensed that if I stayed much longer, the church would lose the opportunity for Dave Stone and Kyle Idleman to lead them. These men were both capable and eager to lead.
It would have been unfair to ask them to wait any longer. I concluded that the church would do better in the long term if I stepped aside.
8. It would be in the best interest of your family to leave.The present ministry may be a toxic environment for your family; they are your primary flock needing protection.
Another consideration is that there are seasons in children’s lives that are more conducive to moving—such as sixth grade or ninth grade.
There are also seasons in your parents’ lives when they need you. I know a minister who moved from Arizona to Kentucky because his elderly parents were ill and had no support.
9. Close friends support the idea.Most friends don’t initially tell you the whole truth. “No! Definitely not! Don’t even think of leaving!” they will insist. But after they think it over and pray about it, good friends who have their finger on the pulse of the congregation may admit, “You know, for your sake it may be best. We would be really disappointed, but you’ve got to do what’s right.”
Such honest counsel is significant.
10. A sustained, undeniable leading of the Holy Spirit into a new ministry.This is not a “flash in the pan” feeling stemming from hurt feelings or temporary discouragement, but a prolonged inner prodding that won’t go away. You have prayed and sought God’s guidance and sense that it is indeed time to go.
This is when we must believe God’s promise in Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
At just twenty-two years of age, Bob became the pastor of Southeast Christian Church. That small congregation of 120 members became one of the largest churches in America, with 18,000 people attending the four worship services every weekend in 2006 when Bob retired. Now through Bob Russell Ministries, Bob continues to preach at churches & conferences throughout the United States, provide guidance for church leadership, mentor other ministers and author Bible study videos for use in small groups.
More from Bob Russell or visit Bob at www.bobrussell.org/