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.