“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: The vast majority of pastors who leave for supposedly greener pastures do so prematurely. The waters get a bit choppy, a few people get ornery, and the temptation to bolt often emerges. Most leave their post too soon—some leave too late. 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 five questions:
Am I running away from or being sent to?
God calling you to a new season is way different than simply wanting to get out of Dodge. In February 2017, I was serving in a part-time capacity as a campus pastor. 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. 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.
Do I still have vision for the church I serve, along with the energy/new ideas to carry it out?
If the answer is yes—stay the course. Figure out how to deal with whatever people problems, conflicts, and the like that are tempting you to bolt.
If the answer is no—it’s possible a transition is looming in your future. Don’t rush the process. Take time to pray, journal, seek advice—maybe even take a sabbatical. Perhaps your desire to run is due to exhaustion.
The Apostle Paul wrote these famous words: “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” As you work your way through the “stay or go” process, you may come to the conclusion after all your praying, planning, strategizing, etc.—that the assignment you’re currently fulfilling is the assignment after all. Instead of launching into new territory, God makes it clear He wants you be content where you are and to flourish where you’re currently planted. You might wonder: “Isn’t it a waste of time to go through all the wrestling associated with possibly moving on, and then decide not to?” Nope. It’s never a waste of time to get certain about God’s purposes for your life.
Have I learned here what God wanted me to learn?
God is more committed to our character development than He is our ministry. He uses the role of pastor to help both congregation and pastor mature in their faith. He allows the pressure of the role to squeeze us, to push up into our conscious awareness issues like people-pleasing, insecurity, and fear. He does this for the express purpose healing those fractured parts of our life. Before you leave, ask God: “Have I learned in this assignment what You wanted me to learn?” If no clear answer comes, perhaps there’s something left for you to learn at your current post.
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.” 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 flying solo. 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 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?
“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 refused to let him sway me back. When 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. Staying at your post (especially if you’ve been there for less than 2-3 years) is usually advisable. Most pastors who leave do so too soon. A few hang on too long.
Pastor, when the winds of change are blowing, ask yourself the above five questions—and come back with solid answers to all five 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!