So, you’ve thought about leaving your church, haven’t you?
As the Barna group has chronicled, as many as 42% of pastors have given real, serious consideration to leaving full-time ministry in the past year. And while the stress of the job during COVID may have been part of that, it’s certainly not enough to explain the percentage of pastors that are considering leaving.
Thinking of leaving your current job is a fairly normal phenomenon. And yet, leaving ministry has more serious implications than leaving a regular job.
Here’s the dilemma.
Leave too early, and you’ll never effect change. Stay too long, though, and similarly, the change the congregation needs to thrive won’t happen.
While statistics vary, most pastors stay 3 to 7 years in one place before moving on. In my view, that’s barely enough time to effect any change. And when pastors quit too quickly, they never bring about transformation.
I am biased toward staying in the same church for a long time. I served in the same community with the same group of people for 20 years. And through those years, we saw a deep transformation.
But should everyone stay that long?
Not necessarily. I’ve also seen leaders stay for years past their effectiveness in leadership. That’s a disaster for everyone. Essentially, the church is left with ineffective leadership, and you feel relatively unmotivated to lead well.
So how do you know when you should stay in your current position in ministry, and when should you go?
Here are seven signs that it’s time to move on. If you see them in your situation, it might be time to tap out.
1. You’ve lost your passion
We all lose passion some days. Your passion might even disappear for a short season. It happens to all of us. That’s actually not a reason to move on.
Loss of passion might be a sign you’re burning out, or it could be that you need some rest or another adjustment. Moving to a new church won’t solve that kind of passion loss. In fact, it might make it worse.
But one sign your time in a place could be drawing to a close is that you’re basically healthy, but your passion for that particular ministry is gone.
You’re still passionate about life. You’re passionate about other things. You may even be passionate about other ministries or other opportunities.
It’s just your passion for ministry in that place and time has vaporized.
If that’s the case, it’s a sign the end may be near. Why?
Great leaders are passionate leaders. Conversely, a passionless leader is an ineffective leader.
2. There’s no other role you could get excited about
Just because your passion is fading in one area doesn’t mean your tenure at a church is over.
A few years ago, I knew I didn’t want to leave my church, but I found my passion for the things I was doing getting narrower.
After what was truly a few incredible months of prayer and processing with mentors and our elders, I transitioned from the Lead Pastor role at my church (being the Lead Pastor is the only role I’ve held in a church since I started) into a Founding and Teaching Pastor role.
The result? I love it. My passion came back stronger than ever, and it got me excited again about the future of the church.
I got to keep the parts of my job I’m most passionate about and throw my weight behind our mission for a whole new season.
Your renewal may not come from leaving but simply changing what you’re doing where you are. Just switch roles.
Your renewal may not come from leaving but simply changing what you’re doing where you are. Click To Tweet
The Pastoral Succession Toolkit [Free]
Succession isn’t urgent until it is. Whether you’re preparing for an upcoming transition or have recently gone through one, the Toolkit will equip you to…
- Lead a healthy transition without messing it up
- Respond effectively when people resist change
- Negotiate your salary
- Thoroughly understand each phase of the transition and the challenges that come with it
3. You’ve effected all the change you can
Another sign it’s time to leave is simply this: You’ve effected all the change you can.
Maintaining what you’ve built never advances your mission because it elevates what happened yesterday over what could happen today and tomorrow.
Sometimes leaders realize they’ve done as much as they can.
Perhaps a new leader will need to come in to pick up where the current leader left off because the current leader has done everything they know how to do.
Or sometimes, a leader’s desire to change exceeds the congregation’s willingness to change, despite long conversations about the need to change.
How do you know your church is done changing? In this post, I outline 7 signs your church will never change.
When your church won’t change, or you can no longer lead that change, it might be time to go. Otherwise, all your best days will be behind you.
And when your best days are behind you, it’s time for a new future.
When your church won’t change, or you can no longer lead that change, it might be time to go. Click To Tweet
4. Your vision no longer lines up with the organization’s vision
The ideal leadership environment is when the leader’s vision and the organization’s vision line up.
Naturally, a leader will always be a little ahead of the church or organization—otherwise, they wouldn’t be a leader.
But over time, the leader’s vision and the organization’s vision can become out of sync.
Sometimes the leader has more vision than the church can handle (see Point 3 above). And sometimes, the organization wants to go faster or head in a more progressive direction than the leader.
Or the visions just become different.
Great leadership requires a syncing of the leader’s vision with the organization’s direction. When that’s not true, great leadership becomes impossible.
Great leadership requires a syncing of the leader’s vision with the organization’s direction. When that’s not true, great leadership becomes impossible. Click To Tweet
5. You feel like a fish out of water
This is a bit of an odd one, but I’ve had it happen to me more than once—not at our church, but with different organizations I’ve partnered with.
Sometimes you fit really well into an organization; the cultural sync is perfect. You are what they are about, and they are what you’re about…or at least as close as you can get this side of heaven.
But as time goes on, you change, or the organization changes. Maybe your values shift. Or, as you grow as a leader, you morph into a different kind of leader than you used to be.
Maybe you’re largely the same, but the organization shifts, not in terms of vision, but in terms of style, culture, and feel.
The best way I can describe how that feels when it’s happened to me is that I end up feeling like a fish out of water.
What used to be so natural and easy now makes me feel like I just don’t fit—for whatever reason.
When you no longer feel like you fit, you’ll never realize your full potential as a leader. And the organization won’t realize its potential either.
6. Your excitement about what’s happening elsewhere is greater than your passion for what’s happening where you are
This is a really significant flag. When you’re more excited about leading something else, not what you’re currently leading, it’s a ticket to both ineffective leadership and pastoral burnout.
Nobody should be more passionate about a church’s future than a leader. Why?
No church’s passion for the mission will ever exceed the passion of its leader. Sure, for a week, it can. Or a month. But never for long.
If your passion for what’s happening elsewhere is greater than your passion for what’s happening where you are, it’s almost impossible to stay where you are.
Naturally, you would have to ensure you’re not struggling with a ‘grass is greener’ scenario, but sometimes you genuinely are not.
If your passion for what’s happening elsewhere is greater than your passion for what’s happening where you are, it’s almost impossible to stay where you are. Click To Tweet
7. Your inner circle agrees
All of these signs notwithstanding, how do you know you’re reading the situation correctly?
Answer? You don’t.
But other people do.
That’s why it’s so important to cultivate and consult an inner circle of people who know you well. And, if you’re married, your spouse will often have better insight into whether you’re reading the signs accurately.
In addition, every leader should have an inner circle of at least 3 to 5 people who know them well enough and love them deeply enough to tell them the truth.
I get emails all the time from leaders who ask me whether they should stay in their job or go, and I always tell them: Ask someone who knows you and knows the situation. I hate it when they email me back and tell me they don’t have anyone like that.
I honestly can’t help them, and they’ve left themselves isolated and prone to making bad decisions. No ‘expert’ can help them in a case like that.
I have no idea whether they should stay or go other than to send them a post like this and tell them to prayerfully apply it to their situation with the counsel of people around them.
I could never have made the move – or would have made the move – I made a few years ago into a Founding and Teaching Pastor role without the input of not only my inner circle but also about a dozen other close friends and associates who weighed in on my decision.
I definitely prayed about it at length, but we prayed about it at length, too. And we talked about it—openly and honestly, weighing all the pros and cons before making a decision.
After all, if you’re the only one who thinks it’s a good idea, it’s probably not a good idea.
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