How Pastors Should Leave Difficult Churches

In Saturday’s post, we heard from Chris Bonts as he shared the painful story of his difficult church. Today, we conclude the conversation as Chris tells us how to leave a difficult church.

As a reminder, this story is very personal for Chris. He experienced these pains to the point that he was pressured to leave the church. I encourage you again to read his fascinating eBook, How to Survive a Difficult Church.

Thom: Chris, when did you know it was time to leave the difficult church?

Chris: When I became convinced, through prayer, wise counsel and a number of events, that I would not be the pastor to lead the church to resolve the aforementioned issues in a manner that would bring glory to Christ, improve the health of the church, and place us in a position to reach the community with the gospel. 

My mistakes in leadership and the attacks of certain factions had just proven too costly to allow us to move forward together. It didn’t hurt that there were a number of deacons who agreed with my assessment. 

Thom: What advice can you give pastors if they come to the point where they know they must leave the difficult church?

Chris: The pastor should leave in as godly a manner as possible. While it will be tempting to use your final words from the pulpit to get in a parting shot at those who undermined your ministry, to act in such a manner would be to abandon the example of Christ.

I believe a pastor should leave in a manner that makes it as easy as possible for the next pastor of that church to reap the harvest for God’s glory. The pastor should leave in a manner that allows those who are paying attention to see Jesus, to see a biblical example of loving those with whom we disagree.

Additionally, the pastor should leave in a manner that does not cause others to lose faith in the church. I have seen far too many Christians over the years grow disillusioned with the cause of Christ and the church of Christ because of how the church treated a pastor to whom they were close, causing great harm to their walk with Christ. 

When I resigned, I wanted to be more attentive to the needs of those in my flock than any desire to justify myself in the flesh.

Additionally, I wanted to resign in a manner that protected my children from the ugliness of church ministry. I didn’t want my children to think, for even a moment, that the church had hurt their father. In many ways, I am still their hero. They would have taken an attack on me personally, which would have hurt their love of the church. I want my kids to love the church because loving the church is a vital part of loving Jesus Christ. 

I did not want to resign or leave in a manner that would cause them to love the church or Jesus less.

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Thom Rainer
Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources (LifeWay.com). Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and six grandchildren. He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unexpected Journey, and Breakout Churches.