Should I Stay or Go?

7 indicators it may be time to leave your church

In ministry, a pastor’s confidence—one of the qualities God uses to build a church—can become one of the biggest obstacles to pastoral succession. The very voice of confidence that overcomes the fear of public speaking and enables a pastor to get up in front of the congregation and boldly proclaim God’s Word—that voice, if unchecked, can also whisper in the pastor’s ear, You’ve got another good year or two in you.

If your succession is one you can plan and have some control over, these seven questions can help you determine when it is the right time to leave. They can also help you discern if you should stay longer—but not too long.

1. Has God given you a clear sign? This sign may range from Scripture that comes alive to a vision or dream. Sometimes compelling circumstances serve as a divine sign, like a financial situation becoming unsustainable for you or your family.

2. Has your leadership spoken with you? Your spiritual authority may be a denominational superintendent or bishop, or the governance board at your church. If they try to start a conversation with you about succession, try to be open-minded about having it.

3. Have you begun to lose heart? Consider whether the passion or other spiritual fire you once knew for your church has clearly departed.

4. Have you received a call to a new ministry? This may start in your heart or in an actual invitation from another church or ministry.

5. Is a mismatch developing? Perhaps you can no longer reach those your church needs to reach, such as a certain age group, economic level or racial demographic. Or maybe the church’s vision has shifted, and you can no longer align with it.

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6. Has the collaboration between you and the church ended? If the place where you serve has become more of an enemy than your ally, or if your family is experiencing deep pain because of your present environment, you should consider moving on.

7. Has the church shown a lack of confidence in your vision and leadership? If the church has the potential to go forward in its mission, but you don’t seem to be the right one to provide the leadership training and outreach it needs for its next chapter, then you may need to step aside.

Many pastors need the help of others to begin developing a succession plan. Sometimes someone other than the pastor needs to broach the topic. It may require a spouse, a close friend, an independent advisor such as a denominational leader, or a combination of all three.

Succession doesn’t end once you set your plan—it’s a constant discipline. A successful pastoral transition mostly rises and falls on the shoulders of the outgoing pastor. Those who can commit to regularly exploring these seven questions, as well as the larger question of whether it is time to transition, will go a long way toward ensuring a great transition. In so doing, they will also write the ending on the most lasting and important part of their legacy.

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