Wanting to leave is OK. You shouldn’t feel guilty when you wrestle with the call of God on your life. You don’t have to push the idea of leaving into the back of your mind. You do have to be honest with yourself, and you also must use caution as you face this issue. Here are five warnings to think through as you wrestle with wanting to leave your church.
More and more I hear voices in the evangelical world suggesting that wanting to leave your church is wrong. These voices suggest that the “right” thing for every pastor is picking a church and staying put until you retire. I know friends who are doing this. I’ve read blogs, articles, and social media posts that encourage this. When I hear these suggestions, I’m concerned, especially when someone suggests every pastor should pick a church a stay put forever.
Challenges for Pastors
This is a complex issue. For one thing, the job of the pastor is a job that involves people. People mean relationships. Relationships involve emotions. When a pastor changes churches or careers, emotions are involved. When pastors don’t understand the dynamic of individuals, relationships, and emotions that get wrapped up in their “job,” they end up leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.
One complicating factor is the reality that there’s always a worse place of ministry. You always know someone who has it worse than you. However, and here’s where the danger really resides, there’s always another place with greener grass than the lawn you’re mowing. There’s always a place that seems like it would be a better fit. Maybe it’s more staff or less staff. Maybe it’s more pay or less responsibility. Maybe it’s more stability or more potential. But there’s always a position out there that seems to have your name all over it.
There’s another problem as you wrestle with the desire to leave. Who do you go to for advice? Of course, you talk to your wife if you’re married. But you don’t want to talk to your kids. Can you imagine the instability and insecurity for a pastor’s kid who had to hear about every time his dad wanted to move to a new church, a new town, a new state? Understand, the same issues of instability and insecurity can cripple the people in your church if they catch wind of your desire to move to greener pastures. So you can talk to your wife. Maybe you can talk to a pastor friend in a different community. But other than that, you’re on your own.
Questions about Leaving
To be clear, there are legitimate, genuine opportunities for pastors to move. Pastors get fired. Others retire. Some change careers. When a church is without a pastor, someone has to step in and lead. Usually, that person is going to be the pastor of another church. That means another church will be without a shepherd, and the cycle continues. It’s sort of like the coaching carousel at the end of every sports season. Someone gets fired. Someone else gets promoted. Someone else is hired to fill the next vacancy, and on and on it goes. This is why you see the typical pattern of pastors “climbing the church ladder.” Sure some pastors are just greedy egomaniacs who want to climb the ladder. But most of us are just caught up in the normal process of hiring firing and retiring.
Another tricky issue is pastor tenure. I’ve heard the stats about the average pastor tenure in the United States. They’re both depressing and hard to believe. Certainly, it hurts a church to go through a revolving door of multiple pastors in a short period of time. On the other hand, I’ve also seen churches hurt by pastors who should have long since moved on or retired. Sometimes it really isn’t a good idea for a man to pick a church and dig in his heels. Sometimes churches get stuck because they’re stuck with a pastor who needs to move on. So somewhere in the middle, there has to be balance and common sense. Is it always good for pastors to come and go like temporary employees? No. Is it always good for pastors to stay put for their entire ministry? No.