Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I have met a lot of children’s pastors in my life. Anyone who knows me knows I like to network. Being a professional conference attendee, most of the children’s ministers I meet fall into one of three categories: those who have found where God wants them to be, those who are not sure where they are suppose to be, and those who want to leave where they are because they know that they are not presently where they are suppose to be. At different times in my ministry over the last thirty-five years, I have been in all three categories.

My quest to find God’s plan for my life started in 1973. There I was, minding my own business, selling drugs to my high school, when one of my best friends told me eight words that rocked my world. Those same eight words still rock my world today. What are they? You know them, “God has a wonderful plan for your life!” Jeremiah 29:11 tells us, “’I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” God’s plan for my life is so much better than the plans I came up with own my own. These last thirty-five years of serving Christ have been an amazing journey. I am so glad the Lord called me to minister to children and their families. It has been wild to see God place me in five wonderful churches under five wonderful pastors. There has been more deposited in me through the leaders and the people God has brought into my life than I have ever given.

In watching people in children’s ministry in the 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s and now in the 10s, I’ve come to realize finding a position in children’s ministry is not hard to do, but finding the right position is a lot harder. I am glad I went to every church that I’ve been on staff at. I’ve loved everyday I worked and served at each of them, but I’ve also loved everyday that I haven’t worked at each of them, too. God used the four wonderful churches that were all part of His plan for me to prepare me for His plan for me, today!

Over the years, I think I’ve heard every reason under the sun why people have decided to make a change. Some are negative and some are positive. Things like lack of vision from senior leadership, frustration or burnout on the part of the children’s pastor, moral and ethical failure, not willing to change (stubbornness), a loss of trust or confidence in leadership or in you, the church outgrows you or you outgrow the position or church, constant conflict, as well as you’ve completed the task and it’s just time to go. Sometimes, the reason(s) to seek a change can be neutral or mutual, things like a change of philosophy or a change of pastor or you’ve been given a new assignment or promotion or you’ve been faithful in that which is another man’s and God gives you your own ministry. With all that stated, the only time to go is when God says to and gives you a release for your next adventure. 

How you leave is as critical as why. Here are seven musts for a smooth exit.

1. Go on time. Don’t be early or late; they both cause problems. Wait until you have been released. Once you know that it’s time to go and have peace, then go. I have only been late in leaving one time, and if I could do it over, I would have left earlier. On time is the best time!

2. Go quickly. This means different things to different people. Ask your leader how much time they would like you to allow. (i.e.: month, two weeks, or immediately) I think the faster the better! If God has released you, it’s over, so leave.

3. Go with your mouth shut. This is the hardest one. Don’t contact church people; let the pastor tell others how he wants it told. Don’t fellowship with people you have never had fellowship with before you resigned. There are always those who want “the dirt”; beware of people wanting to be your friend that have never wanted to be your friend before.

4. Be positive. If you can’t be positive because there is nothing positive, go back to number 3 and go with your mouth shut. I have left four churches; each move has been different. Sure, there were some negative things that happened along the way, but I choose to dwell on the positive.

5. Always leave in a way that you can come back for a visit or attend church there no matter what has transpired. Walk in integrity! Point loyalties to the leadership, not to yourself. You get to move on; they have to stay. When you do come back, come back right! (We’ll discuss this more later.)

6. Leave the children’s ministry in better shape than you found it. I believe a mark of true success is you’ve left a successor. Leadership might not want them, but you should be training and raising up others for them to choose from. You’re only as effective as your team.

7. When you leave, leave! Don’t call workers. If you have special friendships, be a friend but don’t discuss church stuff. A rule I have followed since I made my first ministry change in 1983 is don’t go back and visit unless you are invited by the pastor or have his permission to attend. (It’s been a good one, too!) Don’t allow workers or staff to call you and talk about the church. If people are saying bad things about you after you leave (and they will), let God defend you. Here’s a great truth to live by: “You cannot control what others do, but you can control your attitude and reactions to their choices. Make good ones!”

When you begin to sense a change might be taking place, here are seven steps to make sure you are making the right choices.

1. Listen to the right voice. Sometimes, I hear God; other times, it’s gas (pizza late at night is the wrong voice.) You are the Lord’s; He is your shepherd. You hear His voice and know His voice. The voice of a stranger you will not hear! Ask God to remove blinders or hindrances to hearing His voice.

2. Remain faithful to the vision of the house. I believe it’s what you’re doing now, not what you’ve done in the past that matters. Stay faithful in the small things always! Allow your gifts to make room for you. If they don’t want or need your gifts at your present location, your gifts are needed somewhere else. Pray and talk to God about what you sense, not others.
 3. Don’t go looking for greener pastures. Wait on release. If we truly work for God, He will show us our next assignment. Don’t try to help Him out.

4. Don’t get into fear. If your Heavenly Father can take care of birds and flowers, He knows how to take care of His children. Stay in faith, not in fear.

5. Remember no matter what, God is in control; He has a place for you and knows where you live and how to get in touch with you. It is His job to keep His promises to you and He will!

6. If it is time to go, never look back. Keep looking forward. Your best days in God are always ahead when you are making choices according to the Word!

7. God operates by the law of mutual benefit. He will take care of you and the ministry you left. It’s not your responsibility to worry about the kids or workers you leave behind. If this is good for you, it’s also good for the church and vice versa!

Okay Jim, that’s all well and good, but in all my seeking God, what do I do when God says stay? How do I stay put? Those are good questions, I’m glad you asked them.

Have a current vision. The best vision is a fresh vision. Ask the Lord daily to renew and refresh His plan and vision for your life. It’s also important to keep yourself refreshed.

How? Go to church, read your Bible, pray, enjoy your family, take time off, and make time for hobbies and other stress relievers. Another way to stay put is to keep your heart and life pure. Flee from ungodliness and evil thinking and doing. Guard your attitude. Sure, I’ve been hurt; we all have, but I will not be a victim. I choose to be a victor; that’s why I choose to take every thought captive and line it up with the truth of God’s Word.

One of the things that has helped me stay put is by never letting what I do become old hat. Choose to keep changing and trying new things. You’ve heard me say this before: “Same actions bring same results.”  Another thing that keeps me appreciating where I am is networking. Experience is the best teacher, but it doesn’t have to be your experiences that you learn from. Don’t ride a dead horse; if it isn’t working, stop doing it. Don’t be sucked in by religious tradition; it is totally up to you to stay tuned in and up to date in every part of your ministry. Be teachable. Teachable people have longevity.

Stay hooked up with your pastor and all the leaders above you. Be a team player.

Be loyal. If you need help, ask for it. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m in over my head.”

A good leader knows their abilities and weaknesses. It’s up to you to staff for your weak spots as well as work to improve them. Keep a servant’s heart and be on the lookout for pride. If you know you are to stay, get leaving out of your mind.

Obedience brings blessing! Over the years, I’ve seen this principle work over and over again. If God tells you to go, be obedient and God will bless you; if He tells you to stay, be obedient and He will bless you. When you are obedient, you can expect the blessings of God. Have faith. Expect victory. Expect promotion. And never forget obedience has rewards! 

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Jim Wideman is an internationally recognized voice in children’s and family ministry. He is a much sought after speaker, teacher, author, personal leadership coach, and ministry consultant who has over 30 years experience in helping churches thrive. Jim created the Children’s Ministers Leadership Club in 1995 that is known today as "theClub" which has touched thousands of ministry leaders each month. Jim believes his marching orders are to spend the rest of his life taking what he has learn about leadership and ministry and pour it into the next generation of children’s, youth, and family ministry leaders.