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How do you know when it's time to move on from your church or ministry?

Yesterday I talked to a worship leader who told me he was planning on leaving his ministry. It’s typical for this time of year—worship leaders have come off a stressful month and many are just plain in shock. Shock and stress alone are no reasons to leave a ministry. Over the years I’ve found two major indicators of when I should expect to see a change.

1. Restlessness. I have a cousin who was a pastor in a fairly well known, affluent, historic church in a major city. Things were going great and he was happy as can be. But restless. He said he felt change was coming. His church was wonderful, but my cousin had taken it as far as he could and things had plateaued. Sure enough, a few months later he took the call to another church across the country where he’s been happily ministering.

Some people in ministry take the Apostle Paul approach—their gift is to help struggling ministries get healthy. then when the church has stabilized they move on to another struggling ministry.

Or maybe it’s as simple as a worship leader growing in his or her own faith, realizing there’s more to life than trying to politically please a stagnant leadership, and yearning for a church on fire where they can get busy for God.

2. Frustration. I had been working in one church for a few years and was as happy as a clam. A friend asked me “why are you still here at this church?” and I replied that I was having the time of my life and had no plans of leaving.

Two weeks later a new elder was elected who had an obvious vendetta against me (I would guess it stemmed from the fact I wouldn’t let his off-pitch wife sing on the praise team.) I suddenly went from doing everything right to being constantly “in trouble”–everything was wrong, from the songs to the style to the flow. I received another offer and was gone in 6 months (the same elder then proceeded to chase off the youth pastor and assistant pastor.)

There are two morals to this story. First of all, a message to the congregation: if things are going great in your church, keep an eye out for pesky elders and deacons who are looking for trouble where there is none. Many of them are unfortunately chosen because they are simply successful businessmen and not Spirit-led. Encourage and defend your staff because they are probably under constant attack and criticism to the point where they wonder “why bother.” That, may I add, is why churches are desperate to find good worship leaders–most have quit! I had three emails last week alone from churches looking to fill music positions.

Second of all, notice that I didn’t go out looking for something else—I was given an opportunity. When I’m called to a ministry I assume I’ll be there for the rest of my life. I typically do not make a move until God makes it for me or opens a door—I’ve only once looked for a church job. This is a major confirmation as to whether I should endure a situation (and try to improve it) or leave.

If I were ever to see this elder again, I’d thank him for running me off. As Joseph said in Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” Is that not the truth! If I hadn’t left that ministry I would never have gone to Seacoast Church, would never have met Chris Sligh, would never have driven him to all his American Idol auditions, would never have had the exciting, wild ride of a lifetime with the hoopla of Season 6 and would never have had the chance to work with legendary producer Brown Bannister who crafted Chris’s debut recording. Whenever my clock radio wakes me up to my string arrangement on one of Chris Sligh’s songs playing on the local Christian station I have to chuckle—I could never have planned anything this incredible on my own so I’m just fine with letting God handle it.

Bottom Line: Ministry frustrations? My advice is this: life is way too complicated to figure it out on your own—let God lead you. Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 25:4-5.  

Don Chapman Arranger/composer Don Chapman is the creative energy behind several websites devoted to contemporary worship: HymnCharts, WorshipFlow, and WorshipIdeas.com. He's the editor of the weekly WorshipIdeas newsletter that is read by over 50,000 worship leaders across the world.

More from Don Chapman or visit Don at http://WorshipIdeas.com

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  • Sheena

    This is confirmation for me. Thank you

  • Ron

    Thanks, this is such a timely message and confirmation for me. God has wonderful ways in talking and leading us. God bless always.

  • Jenelle

    I’m a worship leader and really in this same kind of situation. Another confirmation for me. Thank you for sharing this. God bless!

  • PG

    Good thoughts. I would caution that an open door for leaving does not mean it is God. In the same way Elders can be manipulated by a spirit of offense to run you off you can be manipulated by thespirit of offense to leave to quickly. I sometimes wonder how many pastors left a little to quick. This can depend on the structure or model of the church. Elder driven, pastoral leadership driven or balanced. I would encourage to seek the Lord deeply. Here are some good insights.

    Before You Resign

    Questions To Ask Before Resigning

    Resigningfrom a ministry position is one of the most stressful times anyone can face.
    There is a loneliness that accompanies this private time of contemplation. In
    order to determine the costs and benefits of resigning or of staying
    prayerfully work through the following questions:

    Personal / Internal considerations:

    Inwardly have I already left?

    Has my desire to leave been building or is it a result of a recent event or recent
    conflict with an individual?
    ·
    Would I be better to wait until a “cooling off” period is completed (e.g. one day, one
    week/whatever is prudent)?

    ·
    What is my normal inclination in tough situations? (Fight or Fold)

    Spiritual / Leadership considerations:

    How long have I been talking with God about this issue? What is He saying?

    ·
    Am I free in this situation to pursue the essentials of my call to ministry?
    ·
    Do my gifts/philosophy match the identity of the church or is there underlying
    tension?

    Is my vision for ministry in this present situation fulfilled or can I see a greater
    day of ministry ahead if I persevere?
    ·
    Who is influencing this decision to resign? What authority do they have?
    ·
    Do I feel emotionally, spiritually, or physically drained? Is a Sabbatical an option?
    ·
    Does this desire to resign fit into a pattern of when and how I have left churches
    previously? If so, am I at peace with that?

    Relational / Accountability considerations:

    Who would be affected by this decision?
    ·
    How is my family responding to the current church and the possibility of change?
    ·
    What involvement should my family have in this decision?
    ·
    What would the financial costs that would be incurred?
    ·
    Who can I talk to that would give me an objective perspective?

    May you find strength and direction to succeed in ministry.

    • -B

      Thanks PG- I am in this situation as a full time worship leader and I never want to leave for the wrong reasons or too hastily. I am depressed- and stuck. I’m not a normally depressed or burnt out person. I DO identify with both Don and the things you are saying. My family is unhappy, I am not fulfilled in my call to ministry whatsoever, because it is a result of my “trying to politically please a stagnant leadership, and yearning for a church on fire where {I} can get busy for God”… and that to me is not ok. Constantly being “put down” because the leaders aren’t happy with my “style”, what I say– scripting my words and picking my songs- isn’t ok with me.
      The biggest struggle for me in all of this is the congregation– they don’t deserve this, so I feel so torn and stuck. I love them. I love my team. I’m currently discipling a handful of women. I haven’t told anyone.
      I’m 100% walking down burn-out lane and I’ve never been here before. I’m normally a very glass-half-full, “up” person. I constantly remind myself that happiness is dependent on my circumstances but the Joy of Christ is able to be gained in any circumstance. But that doesn’t mean the hurtful leaders’ words don’t hurt terribly.
      In a situation like this… where I have left churches before, but only after trying and pleading with the leadership to remember what they’re supposed to do from God- to reconsider, to apologize, to smooth things over.. is it ok to leave?
      I’m struggling with the when and how. And the “am I even ready for another church assignment?” “Will anyone hire me if my boss writes me a bad reference?”
      “Although I desperately need rest in God for a short time… what will fill my days? Where will I go after this?”