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5 Ways to Know When It’s Time to Leave Your Church

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How can you know if it’s time to leave your church?

Research and analysis done by many psychologists shows that humans get an itch for significant change every 7 to 10 years. Some believe part of this is related to how our cells regenerate every seven years. We change half of our main friendships every seven years.

Obviously all this is a bit subjective, but based on the experience of most of us, this holds true. Something about our mind is “trained” to desire significant changes almost every decade, including our jobs.

Let’s get one thing straight: Church ministry jobs are more than just jobs. This doesn’t mean that pastoral jobs should be highly sought after; instead, it is the reality of ministry being a lifestyle vocation more than something we punch in and out of everyday.

Signing up to help lead a church is a high calling, one that should not be taken lightly. But the pastoral profession is not immune to the psychological need many of us have for change.

I’m not thinking of any specific circumstances, but I can think of many situations in which a pastor (in my mind) clearly needed to move on for the betterment of their own life and the life of their current ministry context. Sometimes, this is forced by a congregation wanting change and the pastor being unable to do so. The statistics on pastoral turnover in churches is not good. Worship and youth pastors are said to change jobs every two years. And really all of this is centered around an unhealthy understanding of the ways God points us in new directions. What I want to focus on is change and trying to discern when transition is necessary within the church ministry context.

Every couple of weeks, I meet with a professor at my seminary along with a few fellow seminary students to talk life and ministry. Last week, I brought up this subject of how we, as ministers, can know when God is leading us somewhere else. Everyone, at some point, will have to deal with wondering whether it’s time to go, but it seems very few are equipped to notice the cues that point us in new directions

Here are some good indications (all brought forward by my fellow seminarians) of how to know when God is saying it’s time to move on:

How do you know when it’s time to leave your church?

  1. It’s time to leave your church if your heart isn’t in it.

    Here’s the first question to ask. This isn’t the be-all, end-all question, but it does put into place whether God may be leading somewhere else. Self-evaluation through prayer and meditation is where this process must begin.

  2. It’s time to leave your church if it’s just a paycheck.

    Understanding the motivations of our hearts and minds in the midst of church ministry is key to knowing why we serve the church. If it’s just a paycheck, we’re likely only motivated to serve because it pays our bills rather than because we’re operating exactly where God desires us to be. However, this must be said as well… Sometimes (for a season of life), God puts us in difficult and trying situations in order to help us grow in the long run.

  3. It’s time to leave your church if God has given you a passion for something else. How is God directing your passions?

    This goes hand in hand with the last section on change and transition. Our passions change. None of us are the same today as we were 10 years ago. It is important to continue evaluating what God is doing within us and how that affects where God is leading us. If our passions no longer fit our current position, it might be time to move on.

  4. Seek out trusted peers.

    All of us have blind spots, and none of us have perfect perspective, so seeking out the advice and input from trusted people is incredibly vital when considering where God is leading. Certainly, we shouldn’t base a decision entirely on the advice of others, but often, God will use the people around us to help push us in the direction He desires. I often find the people I trust are able to articulate where I sense God moving much more than I can when I’m left to my own thoughts.

  5. Evaluate the difference between change and transition.

William Bridges’ book Transitions was a challenging read for me as I processed through how he outlines the difference between change and transition.

Change is situational. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological. It is not those events but rather the inner re-orientation and self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of those changes into your life. Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture. Unless transition happens, the change won’t work because it doesn’t “take”.

Pursuing after a ministry change without understanding the psychological transitions going on deep down in ourselves is a foolish thing to do.

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Tyler Braun is a pastor at New Harvest Church in Salem, Oregon. He is the author of "Why Holiness Matters: We've Lost Our Way - But We Can Find it Again" (Moody).