When Should a Pastor Leave a Church?

post date: October 21, 2011

The question came from a young man pastoring his first church. I don’t know much about the congregation he serves except that it is small and filled with mostly older folks who don’t want to change.

At least that’s how the young pastor sees it. Both he and his wife have been feeling discouraged. After three difficult years, here is his question:

How does a pastor know when it’s time to leave?

Here’s an edited version of my answer:

When is it time to leave? Generally the answer is “not quite yet.” That’s a good rule of thumb. I think the longer you hang in there, the better for you and your wife and the better for the church. There aren’t any “rules” for situations like this. Change comes very slowly to most established churches. It’s hard for new pastors to come to grips with that.

We need to set realistic goals. I often tell pastors, “Give your church small victories.” People need to hear good news from their shepherd and not a steady diet of criticism from the pulpit. Small victories lay the groundwork for bigger things to come.
I do not think you’ll be in your current church forever. What matters is that you continue to grow during this difficult period. The patterns you set now will guide you for the rest of your ministry. Ask God to give you gritty resolve to stay by the stuff.

Get up each day and do whatever you can do to help your people. Love the church as it is now even as you dream of what God may do in the days to come. Work hard at your preaching so that you have something good to give the people on Sunday morning. Most of all, put your future in God’s hands and don’t make the mistake of assuming that you’ll be happier and more productive somewhere else. We’re not the best judges of our own effectiveness.

When the time comes to leave, you’ll know it and your wife will know it too.

Hope this helps a little bit. Blessings, Ray


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