While there are exceptions, at some point in almost every pastor’s life, the question arises: While long ministries are usually preferable, not everyone is supposed to remain in the same place for a lifetime: How do I know when it’s time to leave? The Apostle Paul stayed at Ephesus for three years; that was apparently his longest ministry.
Given this pattern, how does a preacher know when it is time to leave?
In my view, the following are 10 signs that the time to leave has arrived. Indeed, a combination of any three factors occurring simultaneously represents a strong indication that you should start turning some doorknobs.
Ten signs it’s time to leave:
1. Worship attendance declines for three years in a row with no reasonable explanation.
Sometimes, there are valid reasons for a failure to grow.
You serve in a depressed area where most young adults have moved away. Or the main industry closed and the town’s population has declined by 30 percent. The church endured a split, and healing is painfully slow. You have started several new church plants that reduced numbers at the mother church.
Business consultant and author Jim Collins points out that mountain climbers set up base camps to allow stragglers to catch up, advance scouts to cast vision and everyone to rest. So, a pastor shouldn’t panic if attendance occasionally plateaus.
Yet, after three consecutive years of decline, it may be time to leave.
2. In a secret ballot, a third of the elders suggest it.
Disharmony or lack of support at the church’s core puts you on shaky ground, making it difficult to lead effectively. If you are wondering whether it is time to leave, try asking the elders for their opinion in a secret ballot.
If you fear even asking would be a catalyst for division or unjust criticism, you may already have your answer.
3. You have made serious mistakes that severely limit your ability to lead.
Noted pastor Ben Merold once said, “We’re like ships in the harbor; we all collect barnacles.” Collect too many barnacles, and they can sink you.
If you stay in one place very long, you will make mistakes with people. After all, there was only one perfect Shepherd.
Perhaps you have offended unforgiving people who won’t let it rest. Or your mistakes are so numerous and well-known that you have lost influence and can’t re-establish credibility.