When should a pastor leave a church? Most pastors eventually cross paths with this question in their life. And the answers to this question can lead you to either stay or make the difficult decision to leave the church.
Whichever direction you’ll choose to take, it’s a big deal for all Christians (and not just pastors) and you’ll need to truly think through everything that can affect your decision. That way, you know you’ll be doing the right thing.
With that, allow us here at Church Helper to walk you through 6 things you, as a pastor, need to consider when deciding whether to leave a church.
Before going through these possible reasons, keep these in mind.
To help you while you consider the possible reasons we’ve listed below, here are things you should keep in mind as you contemplate your decision.
Have long conversations with God.
For someone such as yourself who is working in the pastoral ministry, with possibly years and years of experience, this first point is a given. To seek God even for the smallest of decisions is a trait that Christians must possess and a trait that pastors have honed into being second nature.
Especially for a big decision such as leaving a church, one conversation with God is not enough. Much prayer is needed for anyone to come to a decision they can feel in their heart that God approves of. So, think of this as a reminder if you haven’t been setting as aside as much time as possible to talk to God.
Clear your heart and let God guide you.
We can devote a lot of time to praying to God, but if we do not clear our hearts each time we do, then His guidance might get lost in our hearts amongst the storm of inadequacy, anger, frustration, and the like. God’s word and wisdom are invaluable in a situation where you’ve been urged to consider leaving the church, so you must make sure you’ll clearly receive His instructions.
It can be difficult at first to clear your heart and your mind before prayer, especially when the feelings swimming in your chest are fresh and thriving. However, with practice, you can feel yourself feeling lighter as you try to empty your entire being of all feelings. Only then will it be clear as to how the Father and His Holy Spirit are guiding you.
Staying should always be the default choice.
Though we’ll be going through several reasons that point towards leaving the church, staying should always be the default choice in our minds and hearts. Meaning, through every difficult season of your ministry, you always find a reason to stay and hope for a better future. Rather than gravitating towards leaving whenever the smallest of things happens. After all, we’re often in this ministry for the long haul.
With that said, not everyone will find the reason to stay throughout their pastoral ministry in a church. Numerous things can happen that may push anyone, even a pastor full of devotion to one church, to leave the church or the pastoral ministry altogether.
1. You’ve lost connection to the flock.
Being a shepherd to the flock entails not just leadership but a true heart for tending to each sheep. When you first become a new pastor in a church, it can take some time to connect with the members of the congregation. Their church family could be that tight-knit, making it quite difficult to break through and enter their inner circle. Once you do though, you’ll feel right at home with the members and your co-pastors.
However, years can pass, and a lot of events with it that can tamper with that connection. You may not feel it at first, but slowly creeping in is the feeling of losing touch with those you shepherd. You slowly notice yourself becoming more of a hired hand than a shepherd. The ministry becomes more like a job.
In the Bible (John 10:12-13), the Lord Jesus tells us the big difference between the two, and as a pastor, you must always strive to be a shepherd and not just a hired hand.
Worse yet is when you’ve been assigned to an area for years yet seem to feel no connection to the flock. The part of the congregation you lead feels like a group of strangers. It will be difficult to serve as their leader when the most you can give them is the care of that of a hired hand.
2. You can no longer trust the church leadership.
Climbing up the ladder in the leadership of a church—such as becoming a lead pastor or an executive pastor—can open your eyes to many things. Not all of these things will be good. When you see firsthand how church leaders run the church, you may see some things that will test your trust in the leadership. It’s also possible to form a distrust in the leadership of a church when you experience directly and continuously the effect of their faulty leadership.
In the Bible (Hebrews 13:17), we are all instructed as Christians to obey and submit to our leaders. However, when even after you’ve given the church leaders the benefit of the doubt, raised your concerns (that seem to fall on deaf ears), and tried to understand them to the best of your abilities—your distrust seems to only grow, then it could be time to look for a new church.
3. You’ve gathered that a majority of the Elders suggest it.
Along with seeking God’s counsel and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, there are veteran ministers in the congregation that you can approach to help you come to a decision. Elders in the church are gifted with the wisdom of God, brought by their decades-worth of service as ministers and leaders.
Ask your church Elders and they will surely answer you with counsel based on the Bible and the teaching of Lord Jesus. It’s also quite likely that they’ve been in a similar situation and will have an answer ready based on their past experience. You could even ask them to pray for you during your struggle with this difficult decision.
When a majority of the Elders you approach suggest or even push you to look for a new church, then that’s a sign as clear as day to go and identify the next church you’ll truly belong in.
4. Leaving will be better for your family.
This part of our discussion is largely arguable depending on the person and the specifics of their faith. If the things mentioned in this section do not resonate with your beliefs, then feel free to skip this portion.
Here at Church Helper, we believe that as Christians, our duty is first to God, second to our family, then third to the church. With that, if leaving the church will be better for your family, then that’s a sign that it’s the right thing to do.
Many reasons could exist for why leaving could be better for your wife and children. Perhaps an opportunity for a better-paying pastoral ministry presents itself to you. That’s not to say that we should value the temporary things of this world. But if your current church does not and will not compensate you enough to properly support your family, then that’s a reasonable deal-breaker.
Another reason could be how your family is treated by the congregation. It’s not uncommon for some pastors to have family members that do not share the faith. If the wife and children of the pastor are disregarded or even mistreated by the church due to this difference in belief, then that’s also a non-negotiable deal-breaker.
5. You (or the church) are unable to move past your grave mistake.
Though we’ve received the grace of God in our lives, we are still flawed humans prone to making mistakes. We can even make a mistake that can change our lives entirely. The effect can be even more so devastating when you serve the church as a pastor. When what happened did not only affect you but members of the congregation as well, the outcome could be losing your right to be a pastor in that church.
Two things can happen after you commit a grave mistake.
One is that you are unable to move past your grave mistake even after you are forgiven by affected parties and the church leadership. When you’ve done something so wrong—it could feel as though you’ve caused the death of your spirit. Not even the forgiveness of those you’ve wronged can alleviate the feeling.
In most cases, time and much prayer, among other things, could be what can help you find forgiveness in your eyes and, especially, in the eyes of God. While you take your time to forgive yourself, it could be better for you and the church to decide to rest and take time off from your pastoral ministry. A good church will give you all the time you need and accept you much like before once you are ready.
Second is the church is unable to move past your grave mistake—considering it better for the church’s future for you to leave and look at other churches. Even if you’ve achieved peace within yourself—already considering yourself living a new life—and you’ve truly felt God’s forgiveness for your grave mistake, some people in the church will be unable to give the same forgiveness.
If their resolve to remain unforgiving affects your ministry as a pastor, in such a way that you are unable to carry out your ministry, then you could either be assigned to a far-off part of the church or it could be time to leave the church.
6. Your leadership has become unfruitful.
The duties of a pastor can vary depending on the congregation you are part of. In general, teaching and caring for church members is vital to your duty as a pastor. You can also be tasked to lead a group of believers in a certain area. To make sure they always attend worship services, participate in church activities, and share the good news of Christ Jesus by inviting new listeners—all these are part of how a pastor should lead the flock entrusted to him.
If you’ve been assigned to multiple areas, where the consistent result of your leadership is unfruitful (e.g. worship service attendance is always in decline; a few to no new believers are called to the church; disputes among the believers remain unresolved)—then perhaps it’s time to consider whether being a pastor in a leadership position is truly your calling. Note that this is after you’ve tried all you can to improve yourself as a pastor.
Perhaps your strength lies in writing and delivering a sermon, while your weakness is in how to deal with discord in the local church community. If you’ve tried all there is to address your weaknesses, yet you still come up short, then it could be better for the church’s future to step down from the leadership position.
Being an unfruitful leader doesn’t automatically mean you should leave the church. Remember that we are not all called to the same calling. In truth, it could just be that your calling does not align with that of those called to be leaders.
When should you leave then? If in your heart, you are certain that your calling is for leadership and you wish to pursue this calling in a new church, then it’s entirely possible for you to do so.
To decide whether to leave a church when you are a pastor is quite the dilemma. On the one hand, you are expected as a man after God’s own heart to set an example for the church members. When a majority of churches frown upon church-hopping, to leave the church is to set a bad example to the members. On the other, multiple reasons exist that can push you to leave a church, despite you never even foreseeing such a situation.
Hopefully, considering all the things we’ve discussed above can help you reach a decision that God agrees with. If you’ve taken all consideration and have conversed with God over and over, then there’s no doubt that a good church will understand and honor your decision.
While you’re here, do have a look at our previous post.