Determining if or when it's time to leave
It's so hard to determine when it's time to go. It's ministry, after all. Aren't we supposed to be suffering? Have you stayed too long? Not long enough? Here are a few tips I've learned along the way and some resources that will help you as you pray through this process.
Four Indicators that it's time to move on:
- You have a change in your sense of calling
- You become the lid to your ministry
What questions can you ask yourself?
- How is your mental health?
- How are you doing physically?
- Are you checking in with mentors?
- How is your family doing?
- Blog: Builders. Breakers. Fixers. Maintainers. Which are You?
- Webinar: Register for our How to Know When it's Time to Go webinar on March 31st
- Books (Free download): When to Leave & Before You Go
As always, we are here for you, and we're praying for churches and teams all over the United States!
Read the Full Transcript
Well, hey. It’s Matt Steen, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing. This is another Chemistry conversation. Today, a little bit different. Today, it’s just me. You’re welcome, I guess. But we’ve been talking a whole awful lot around Chemistry about this whole idea of the Great Resignation. You’ve probably heard about it. You’re probably tired of reading our stuff about it. But I think it’s one of those things where we need to, as a church, come to grips with, that this is really going on. So as we’ve been walking through this, one of the conversations I’ve been having a whole awful lot with pastors is the idea of, when is it time for me to leave? Or is it a good idea for me to move on from my current church in this season? Or how do I know when the time is right? So kind of want to talk a little bit about that today if I can. I want to talk and give some honest truth. There is no such thing as the Goldilocks moment in this. There’s no “just right” time. Most times when people leave, they leave at one of three times. It’s either a little too early, a little too long, or way too long. They either leave too early, a little too long before they should have left, or they wait way too long. So when I talk to guys, what I encourage people to do is not necessarily leave too early. And definitely don’t leave way too late. But to leave somewhere in the middle, somewhere around “I’ve been here a little too long.”
I stole those three categories from a guy named Wade Hodges. Wrote some great books that we’ll link off to down below. Just great resources as you’re processing when to leave or what to do before you go. Two great books, and he gave those to us to be able to share with you, and I hope you’ll take advantage of those. So three times. We haven’t stayed long enough, stayed a little too long, or I’ve stayed way too long. So what are some good reasons or some good indicators that it may be time for you to consider moving? I think that there are four buckets. One, there is a general sense of change in the call that God has on you. For instance, for me I was a youth pastor for eight years. And then somewhere around year seven, in that season of ministry for me, I was on a waterslide at Mountain Creek. If you guys have HBO Max, there’s a documentary called Class Action Park. That’s where this waterslide was. You should go watch it. It’s horrible. There’s probably bad words and all that kind of stuff, and you’re going to judge my sense of stuff. But that’s where this actually happened. I was on a waterslide. I was going down getting the snot kicked out of me. I got the sense - and this is going to sound odd. I’m convinced that it was from God. I got the sense that I am too old for this. It is time for me to move on from student ministry. I was 32, and it was time. So over the course of the next 6-8 months, I began to shift into what was next. Ultimately, it was planting a church. Because that’s so much easier than student ministry… [shakes head]. So that’s the first bucket though. There’s a general sense in the change of your call. Maybe your call is no longer what it was when it took you to that church, and you’re starting to realize that your call is in a different direction or a different church. That’s number one.
The second piece is you become the lid for your ministry. I am convinced that we are each gifted to lead a church of a certain size or a certain complexity level or in a certain season of ministry. Todd had a great piece about being a builder or a breaker or a maintainer or something else - there were four categories. We can link off to that too. But in each of those seasons, it requires a different skillset, and sometimes our church has gotten to the point where we have done as much as we possibly can. And for us to stay is to put a lid on where the church can go. Right? And our leadership becomes the lid for that ministry. So we need to be self-aware enough to understand for me to stay here means that this church isn’t going to go where God is calling it to go. And so we need to have that self-awareness. We need to have the humility to be able to admit that and say, maybe it is time for the good of this church - as hard as it is, as much as I don’t want to leave because my family is settled - that we need to step away. So that’s the second thing. We’ve become the lid for our ministry.
The third piece is boredom. There are seasons where we just get bored with ministry, we get bored with where we are, and we kind of cruise through ministry life. We just get stuck and do the same things and cruise. And if we’re bored and if we’re cruising, that’s dangerous. We all know what happened to David when he got bored with being king, right? In the springtime when kings went to war, what did David do? He stuck around, and the next thing you know Bathsheba and all that kind of stuff. So I’m not saying if you’re bored you’re going to have a moral fail. But if we’re bored, that’s typically a good sign that something’s going on and it’s time to think through, hey, has my calling shifted? Have I become a lid? Is God doing something in that He’s taking me somewhere else? Or is God doing something with my overall sense of call? That’s a good indicator that it may be time to move on.
The last piece, bucket four, is toxicity. I’m going to be honest here. For the most part, if you are a senior leader in an organization that is toxic, that could be on you and you need to own that piece. Now, that’s an unpopular opinion and you probably just threw your computer across the rooms, and I’m sorry. Those computers are expensive. But a lot of times, the toxicity conversation comes when we’re talking to student ministry leaders, when we’re talking to more staff ministry people. If you are a senior leader and you’re stuck in a toxic situation that’s driven by an unhealthy elder board or something like that, then that may be one thing. But senior leaders have more of the ability to change that toxicity and change the culture, as long as they are being allowed to lead by their board. In toxic situations, if you are a junior leader, if you’re not in senior leadership - executive pastor, senior pastor, something like that - I encourage you to move on because you’re probably not going to change that culture. Now, prayer trumps everything. The voice of God and the direction of the Holy Spirit trumps everything I say on this. If the Holy Spirit is genuinely calling you to stay, then for the love, you need to listen to that. But if you are staying there because you believe that you have the ability to turn the ship and you are the student ministry pastor on a staff of a hundred in an unhealthy culture that you know is unhealthy, you’re probably not going to change the direction of that. One of my ministry maxims from years and years ago is that if I need to take an antidepressant to be on staff at a church, I probably don’t need to be at that church. That comes from being in an unhealthy, stagnant culture where there was just significant in-fighting, back-biting, and just nastiness that was going on within the staff. And it was getting in the way of the calling of the church. I, being a youth pastor at that time, did not have the ability to shift the direction of the church. I could speak truth, but I really couldn’t change it. It was pretty clear that I needed to move on. Those are four reasons. Change in call, becoming the lid for your ministry, boredom, toxicity. Those are four good indicators that it may be time for us to move on. So if we’re wading through that, how do we discern really if it’s time to move or if I need to wait or something like that, I will say that there’s three really good indicators and you need to wrestle through these.
The first is our internal gages. Are we on antidepressants because of what’s going on at the church? Are we able to sleep? Are we having rage dreams? We don’t talk about this a whole awful lot, but if you’re dreaming in the middle of the night that you’re going and beating up your elder chair or your senior pastor or your youth pastor or something like that, that’s indicating that something ain’t right there. How are you doing physically? Now, I’m not the bastion of physical health, I’ll admit that. But how are you health-wise? Emotionally, physically, spiritually. Those gages are key indicators of whether it’s time to make a jump. Checking in with mentors. This is an assumption that you have a mentor. if you don’t have a mentor, we got other issues. But you need to be checking in with people who are deeply invested in you and don’t have to worry about it costing them anything for being truthful with you. So if you’re talking to the elder chair, there’s a vested interest in having you stay because then they don’t have to go through a church. But if you’re talking to a friend from back in the day. Like Dave Busby used to call them “garden friends.” People who are truly invested in you, want you to be healthy, want you to be what God’s calling you to, and aren’t afraid to be honest. If they can say to you, “Hey, you need to suck it up and stay put,” that’s good advice. Or maybe they’re going to say, “You need to get out of there, and you need to get out of there soon.” So be checking in with mentors. Be honest with them about what’s going on and expect them to be honest with you as well.
The third indicator is family. Is your spouse going to church? Or are they so irritated and frustrated with what’s going on that they just can’t seem to drag themselves there? how about your kids? Do they hate the church because of what they see going on? Those types of things are pretty significant indicators. They can be a sign that it’s time to move on. And your spouse needs to be in this. Even in a healthy church situation, you need to be wrestling through - one of the things I experienced early on into our marriage is Theresa and I were both kind of at a point where we felt God was calling us each individually away from the church, but we were too afraid to talk about it. Because she looked at me and she thought I was having the time of my life - and I was. It was a great church. it was a great experience. But she felt like it was time for us to move on, that God was saying that. I kind of had the same thing where I felt that God was calling us to move on, and Theresa had been through a season and I didn’t want to introduce any more change, so I kept my mouth shut. Which was a big mistake. So one say all of the sudden, we both kind of sucked air through our teeth and said, “You know, I’ve been thinking,” and we found out that we were thinking the same thing. So it’s funny how that works, but we need to be having these conversations with our spouses.
So those are three indicators and four buckets of what it would look like and what we share with guys as they’re going through a transition process. Love to hear from you what else you would add. Would love to hear from you what your experience has been. Or if you guys just need somebody to process with and talk through with, would love to have that conversation with you as well. So we’ll link off to the article that Todd put out recently. We’ll link off to the books from Wade.
Hopefully, those are helpful for you guys and hope you guys are having a great day. Thanks again for checking in. Looking forward to hearing from you guys soon.