If the servant of God is at all faithful, he is frequently examining both himself and his ministry and honestly asking the question, “Is it time for me to make a move?” The issue is not career advancement, more money or the desire to escape from difficult problems. (There are difficult problems in every church; only the names and faces change.) No, the real issue is the will of God — what is best for God’s people and God’s servant.
Except in those unfortunate churches where the ministry is only a job, the relationship between pastor and people is a close one that cannot be ruptured without pain. Therefore, it behooves both pastor and people to face this matter humbly and in the fear of God. For the pastor and his family, working through the question “Shall I go or stay?” can be either an agonizing experience of paralyzing pain or an edifying experience of growth. To be sure, any decision of this nature is always painful, but it need not be permanent or damaging.
Here are some suggestions the perplexed pastor may want to consider as he goes through the throes of evaluation that may lead to resignation.
1. Know Yourself
Some men are equipped for longer ministries, and some are not. It is my guess that too many pastors leave too soon and that both they and their churches might have been stronger if they had stayed longer. Some pastors are pioneers who can clear the brush and plant the seeds, but they have a tough time tending the garden. We are all different: some plow, some sow, some water, and some harvest; but it is God who gives the increase.
What are your special gifts? Are they what the church needs at this time in its history? Have you and the people grown “comfortable together” so that the challenge is gone? Or are you only discouraged and perhaps seeking an excuse to run away? Is there some problem that you don’t want to face and solve or some new vision for the ministry that frightens you? Be honest!
Only you can answer these questions. This does not mean that you cannot consult with others whose spiritual insight you respect, because honest confrontation with other hearts and minds (and be sure to include your wife!) can help you better understand yourself. However, the “buck” stops with you, so don’t try to avoid it.
2. Know the Signs
The pastor does not “change jobs” the way most other workers do. God builds both the worker and the work. They are intimately tied together, and what happens to the shepherd is certain to affect the sheep.
As you look over your field and your work, ask yourself: 1) Are the challenge and excitement gone in my heart? 2) Am I reacting or responding? 3) Am I planning ahead or just treading water? 4) Do I enjoy being away from my own pulpit? 5) Are some of my best leaders — not the “cranks” — starting to hint about change? 6) Am I personally growing in my own spiritual life and professional skills, or do I resist change? 7) How am I responding to honest criticism? 8) Am I watching the clock and the calendar and no longer making personal sacrifices for the good of the work?
Depending on what you see and how you feel, you may give different answers at different times; but when some definite conclusions start to take shape, you will be that much closer to a decision.
3. Know the Field
It is never easy for us to know when our own work is done. Just about the time we think we have failed, God gives evidence that He is blessing. However, we must be honest with ourselves and the Lord and seek to evaluate our ministry.
How would a change in pastors affect programs that are now going on? Are there special problems that your experience equips you to handle best? Or is there a desperate need for a new perspective and a breath of fresh air?
Is the situation such that your successor could fit in easily? Is the church at such a level spiritually and organizationally that change would not be a threat, even though it might bring a certain amount of pain? And what about the people you are counseling or discipling?
In your sanctified imagination, project yourself and the church down the road about five years. What do you see for them and for you? Does what you see excite you? Can you see yourself as part of it?
No pastor can do everything, but have you finished the work that God gave you to do? And are things ready for a new man to take the work even further? Would the next man have an easier time if you waited six months or a year? It is best for everyone involved if the pastor “quits while he is ahead.” Better to sail out on the crest of a wave than to linger too long and be drowned. Be sure that your wife and family are in agreement as you have prayed and talked together. A move will be serious for your children, so don’t minimize their feelings. The important thing is that you are going to a new ministry and not simply leaving a ministry.
4. Know How to Cooperate
Work in harmony with your church leaders. Resignations don’t create problems -they reveal them. Set a schedule that is agreeable to you and the church family, and stick to it. Be decisive, and turn a deaf ear to the dear people who ask you to reconsider. They said the same thing to the last pastor and will probably say it to the next one when he leaves.
Finally, get out of the way of your successor and try to be an encouragement to him. Don’t go back to the field for weddings, funerals or other reasons without contacting him. Treat him the way you want your predecessor to treat you when you arrive at your new field.
Changes are never easy, and they get harder as we grow older. Handle your situation so that, with God’s help, you will be able to look back with joy and look ahead with excitement.
©2002 WWW Used by permission. This article is copyrighted by the author and is for your individual use. Reproduction for any other purpose is governed by copyright laws and is strictly prohibited. This material originally appeared in Prokope, January-February 1986
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).