by | Aug 17, 2017 | Burnout, Calling, Criticism, Depression, Difficult people, discouragement, Leadership, Ministry Leader, Missionary, Pastor, Quitting

“John, I can’t take the pressure anymore. . . I’m thinking about resigning.”

You’d be surprised how often those words or some variation of them travel across the cellular airwaves to me each month. Lead pastors who feel desperate, tired, emotionally beat up, out of options, and ready to run for the hills. Layer on top of that the admonition: “Quitters never win and winners never quit” and you have a recipe for real despair.

Let me start by saying this: Some lead pastors leave their post too soon—some leave too late. Some under-stay—some over-stay. Some leave at the first sign of sustained trouble—some stay in toxic environments that have no realistic hope of changing.

So. . . How does a pastor know: “Should I stay or should I go?”

While no formula exists to arrive at the right answer, lead pastors who are considering moving on will do themselves a huge favor by asking and answering the following four questions:

Have I learned what God wanted me to learn?

God uses the ministry of a lead pastor to help congregations mature in their faith. But at the same time, He leverages the role to teach lead pastors about themselves. He allows the pressure of the position to squeeze leaders, to push up into their conscious awareness issues like people-pleasing, insecurity, and fear. He does this for the express purpose healing those fractured parts of a lead pastor’s life. Before you leave, ask God: “Have I learned here what You wanted me to learn?” If no clear answer comes, and it seems like you’re in a holding pattern, perhaps there’s something left for you to learn at your current post.

Am I running away from or being sent to?

God calling you to a new season or focus is way different than simply wanting to get out of Dodge. In February of this year, I was serving in a part-time capacity as a campus pastor. I’d been at the helm for about nine months, and the campus was doing well. (We had a great bunch of leaders who made it happen.) But I sensed a deep yearning to get back to full time with Converge Coaching, and I approached our pastor about the upcoming transition I was sensing. Everything at the campus was moving with great momentum. No people issues. It’s was just time to give full attention to my primary assignment. I wasn’t running away from problems – I was being sent once again toward my calling.

If your primary reason for considering a departure is “I just want to get out of here,” take caution. In most cases, that’s not enough of a reason to jet. What is God sending you to? If it’s you sending you, trouble likely awaits. Now: some situations are so toxic and dehumanizing you may need to just get out—but I believe these are the exception.

Am I flying solo or do I have a team helping me process this decision?

If you ever needed a coach or mentor, transition time is it. When Joshua stood on the doorstep of leading the nation of Israel into the Promised Land, he spoke these words to the Israelites: “You are to help your brothers until they’ve taken possession of the Land.” (Joshua 1). You can try to make the transition alone—but why would you? In my opinion, very few leaders (if any) can make a healthy leadership transition on their own. Being able to talk through the inputs of your decision, bouncing ideas off of people who will tell you the truth, and having a team praying with you during should-I-stay-or-should-I-go decisions just makes too much sense. Do your best to avoid making these kinds of calls in a relational vacuum.

Am I committed to the decision?

Jesus said: “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no.” On a few occasions, during twenty years in the marketplace, I left one company to join another. Every time my boss tried to talk me out of it, and even sweeten the deal with more money. I would have been foolish to let them sway me back. When lead pastors allow themselves to be talked out of their decision to leave, they plant a seed of doubt in their board’s mind about their intentions from that moment on. Once you make a well-informed, fully-thought out, and prayerful decision to leave—and make that known to your board—I advise not turning back, no matter what counteroffer is made.


Should I stay of should I go? Sometimes staying is the right decision. Sometimes leaving is the proper call. Sometimes you gotta know when to hold them or know when to fold them (I’m envisioning Kenny Rogers singing right now). Staying at your post (especially if you’ve been there for less than 2-3 years) is usually advisable. Some pastors who leave do so too soon. A few pastors hang on too long.

Can I throw out a brief rant to those of you lead pastors not in the middle of considering a change? Be gracious to those who are.  It’s tempting to play the critic, to look down your nose and think: “Hmm, what a wimp!” Resist that temptation, and instead, offer your love and prayerful support. Rant over.

Pastor, when the winds of change are blowing, ask yourself the above four questions—and come back with solid answers to all four before you decide to stay or go. Bottom line: if God says stay, then stay. If God says move, then move. If God’s says it’s your choice, do your homework and make the best, most prayerful choice possible.

I’m rooting and praying for you!