When It's Time to Leave
I am grateful for having a dad who is a pastor with great wisdom. He was the one I turned to many times (and still do) when I am perplexed about a course of action. Now, I find other younger pastors approaching me with one particular question: How do you know when it's time to leave a church? How do you know it's God moving and not you running? How do you know it's God's call and note boredom or frustration or the enticement of more money or a bigger church?
At our gathering here in Malibu I was asked that again and after my response, the pastor said; would you write that down? So here are the guidelines I've used over three separate calls in my life:
1. I was released from the call to where I was. When I serve a church, I serve with a passionate love for that people and locale. I go to sleep thinking about them and wake up ready to go. I dream about how to make things better and richer. It's a love-affair. I cannot imagine serving any other people or any other place. But at all three churches, there was a moment (some sudden and some gradual) where I felt release. In nautical terms I call it having the anchor lifted but not having the sails raised or filled. I am released from this local harbor. That is a totally interior and subjective experience, really mystical. Until there is that inner release, a pastor should not leave.
2. A second component was a double-sided coin: I could not lead the church where I felt they needed to go, or they were asking me to lead them where I could not take them. This is not blame-laying, but a recognition that my words did not work any more here. My vision and their vision did not match up or align. This is more than a committee disagreement. This is more than a leadership struggle. This can be my deep restlessness with a church's resistance to my leadership or it can be my admission that what they need next I don't have. In a way, it's similar to the releasing above, but more of an objective validation that I am not the leader for the next chapter of the church's life.
3. The third component is a compelling sense of call, an urgency from another church that nails my heart. This is when you find yourself finishing each other's sentences and knowing exactly what they are saying. This is when a church expresses its needs and you know in your deepest place exactly what's going on. It's that experience of knowing you are uniquely gifted to take this church to the next place and the next level.
4. If you are married and have a family, they need to validate and affirm this transition. Too many pastors I know moved without the blessing of their spouses and created more pain through the family. God does not, I think, call us to fracture our families. We do not worship our families and the whims of our children, but neither do we ignore God speaking to us through them.