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When is it time to go?

“You should leave while they’re still sad to see you go.” I agree wholeheartedly with this bit of wisdom I gathered from a seminar on longterm ministry. You don’t want to leave a church because you were fired! You don’t want to have a few beautiful decades with a congregation tainted by the last year or two. 

How long is too long? When is it time to go? What are the signs it’s time to leave your ministry? Maybe I’m not yet qualified to answer these questions as I haven’t left a long-term ministry. That said, I have asked these questions at different times and have so far decided it's time to stay. I ask these questions because I don't want to coast. I don't want to get in a rut that sucks the life out of me or the church I serve. So, I try to live an examined life and asking critical questions is key to being self-aware.

My primary questions regarding the church and my ministry center on my effectiveness. Every so often I ask myself, “Am I still able to effect change? Am I still blessing this church or am I holding it back?” I ask this because I’m only a steward. The church I’m at now has been around since 1962! My ministry is only a segment of their history and even smaller segment of their future. I want to leave the church in better shape than when I found it.  As the church changes and grows it may come to a season or stage where I can no longer be effective as a pastor. It’s important to have enough self-awareness to discern when you’ve served your purpose.

I have another set of personal questions that I use to assess our current fit. These concerns are about my family. I want to stay healthy and not burn out on church. So, I need to ask if the church is still effective in its ministry to my family and I. Jenny and I have a goal that our children would love the church as much as we do when they grow up. So, I need to make sure that our current church is growing their love for God's Church.

Effective and healthy, are the two broad categories I use to think about staying or leaving. Below are some specific questions I use to assess whether or not it’s time to go. 

Personal Questions

  • Do I still love the people? The leaders?
  • Does my family still have a passion for this work? 
  • Is the church taking good care of me and my family? 
  • Am I still making a difference?
  • Does going into the church make me feel excited or tired?

Leadership Questions

  • Am I more excited about what’s happening here or someplace else?
  • Do I still have a vision for the future here?
  • Do I still have the energy/strength to do what needs to be done?
  • Am I empowering new leaders or holding them back? 
  • Is our leadership team growing in numbers and diversity of thought? 

Congregational Questions

  • Will the church lose momentum if I leave?
  • Have I built up enough goodwill to champion change if needed? 
  • Is there still an air of excitement/hopefulness within the church? 
  • Are there unresolved issues (like large amounts of capital debt) that need to be resolved?

So far, it’s led me to believe that I should stay, but one day I suspect it will tip in the other direction. If you’re in a long-term ministry I’d love to hear about what other questions people ask that keep them aware of staying or leaving. 

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