How to Know When It Is Time to Leave

The decision to leave a church is often filled with emotion. Here are some suggestions that may bring some clarity to the issue.

Ideally, leaving is a matter of God’s calling. Even if the church is growing and ministry is meaningful, when God pulls at you to leave, pay attention. If that pull is strong, clear, and persistent, it may well be the Lord’s signal that it is time to leave. Seek counsel from a trusted friend before deciding. A multitude of counselors offers safety (see Prov. 24:6).

Circumstances sometimes make it necessary to leave. For example, family health problems, special education needs for children, financial necessities, transfer, and safety for your family.

If the church has outgrown your ability to serve effectively, and you see no opportunity for your skills to grow and develop further, and you become a hindrance to the future growth and ministry of the church, it may be time to step aside. On the other hand, you may have outgrown the church. If you stay, you will stagnate. Leaving, therefore, is not arrogance but simply good stewardship of God’s resources manifested in you.

Anyone can burn out. When your energy, focus, enthusiasm, and joy are emptied out, a decision is needed. Be careful that the decision to leave is not made in haste when burnout is involved. Perhaps a leave of absence for recovery and renewal is a possibility. If so, take it. If the church is impatient with your renewal time and you can’t give any more energy to the ministry there, consider starting the process for leaving.

All churches have conflict. However, when conflict over your ministry and leadership is dividing, damaging, and destroying the fellowship and mission of the church, leaving is an option. Some churches are pathologically dysfunctional and can damage you and your family. You become the scapegoat for their anger and frustration. Leaving can be justified. Don’t remain until you or your family are seriously hurt.

Sometimes the length of a pastor’s stay can reach a point of diminishing return. When you and the church are slipping in vision, enthusiasm, and zeal, and staying is creating a negative backlash, then relocation may be the best thing for you and the church.

When unethical conduct such as lying, cheating, sexual misconduct, or stealing has destroyed the people’s trust and support, the wise decision is to leave.

Doctrinal unity is essential for a healthy church. If your theological and doctrinal beliefs are fundamentally counter to that of the church to the degree that it threatens the fellowship of the church, then integrity may call for you to leave.

Ministers must make a living to minister. If the church cannot provide a livelihood, then you must either leave or enter bivocational ministry. Caring for your family is a high and biblical priority. Thousands of wonderful ministers are bivocational. Don’t hesitate to consider this honorable way of doing ministry. In the final analysis, no one of these factors, taken alone, should cause you to leave a place where God has called you to serve.

The Holy Spirit of God may overrule every suggestion in this article and instruct you to stay just where you are. Do your best to determine prayerfully the will of God and follow His plan. These suggestions may help you determine what He wants you to do.

(Adapted from Nonis Smith, “When Is It Time to Leave?” MBC Pastor’s Manual)