Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Why you may feel led to leave your place of ministry

I admit that I am a little biased about long-term pastors.  As many of you know, I served one church as a bivocational pastor for twenty years before believing that God was calling me to judicatory ministry.  Depending on the particular survey, the average pastoral tenure is normally about 3-4 years, especially in smaller churches.  This simply is not enough time for a pastor to enjoy an effective ministry in his or her church.  In one of my pastor workshops I comment that many pastors will reach the end of a thirty year ministry and realize they really didn't have a thirty year ministry; they had 10 three year ministries, and none of them were especially memorable.  Studies have found that growing churches are nearly always led by pastors who have invested several years in that congregation, and the growth is a return on that investment.

When pastors announce they are leaving their current place of ministry it is usually for another church.  They tell their congregation that they feel God has called them to this new place.  But, isn't that the same thing they told their last congregation only three years earlier?  Is God confused about where He wants them?  I think God gets blamed for a lot of decisions that are really the result of frustration, burn-out, laziness, the lure of a larger church with comparable income, or the desire of a spouse who wants to be anywhere but where they are.  However, having said all that, there are several valid reasons why a pastor will want to change his or her ministry.
  • You may be called to a different type of ministry.  That is what happened to me.  God opened up a door for me to serve in a region-wide ministry that also allowed me to continue to focus on resourcing bivocational ministers and the churches they served.  Someone else may be called from a pastorate to a teaching ministry or asked to lead a para-church organization.  Any of these could certainly be a valid reason to leave your current place of ministry.
  • Your church does not share your vision for ministry.  A pastor who is especially gifted in evangelism will struggle in a church that wants their pastor to serve as a chaplain.  A minister who whose vision is for a missional church will not fit well with a church that is maintenance-minded with no desire to change.  Too often, pastors and churches find they are not good fits for one another, and it's usually best if the pastor leaves when that occurs.
  • You have financial needs that cannot be met by your present church.  Some churches want to spiritualize their inadequate salary and benefit packages by questioning the motivation of the minister.  Maybe someone should question the spirituality of a church that doesn't tithe and refuses to provide a decent salary and benefits.  The fact is that ministers and their families are entitled to live as comfortably as others within their congregation, and a church that refuses to treat their pastor fairly in this area should not be surprised when the pastor leaves for another church or secular job to provide for his or her family.
  • You or your spouse develops health problems.  Little needs to be said about this reason.
  • You are in serious conflict with people within your church.  No pastor should run at the first sign of disagreements in the church.  If a minister attempts to lead he or she is going to run into challenges with people.  However, some churches are filled with controllers who are determined to oppose anything that threatens their power of position in the church.  No one in the congregation will stand up to them, and if the pastor tries to do so he or she will find themselves abandoned and at the mercy of the controllers.  Such churches are usually so toxic that no pastor can serve there.
If any of these exist in your situation it does not mean that you must leave your church, but if you find that despite repeated attempts to correct the problem it may be an indication that it is time to begin asking God to open up new doors of ministry opportunities.  You can read more about this in my book The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry.

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