Before Leaving Your Church

I was very impressed with the deadly serious honesty in Wade Hodges’ e-book, Before You Go: A Few Sneaky-Good Questions Every Minister Must Answer Before Moving to a New Church, about pastors leaving churches and what they need to think about. So I asked Wade to write something up for this blog about why he wrote that book, and here are his reflections:

From Wade Hodges

I occasionally get a comment on my blog that perks me up like a shot of caffeine straight to the vein. This one is from an elder and search team leader in a church currently looking for a new pastor.

He writes:

“. . .the new pastor has no idea what he or she is stepping into. The person running the search could be a real power broker that makes back room deals to get things done. Being on this side of a search process, a pastor is really a sitting duck not knowing all the politics and the players. It really is a pretty big act of faith to accept a call to a new church.”

It’s bracing to hear someone “on the other side” acknowledge what seasoned pastors already know and what naive pastors desperately need to learn before they put themselves and their families in church environments hazardous to their long-term spiritual health.

Pastors and former pastors, What is one question you wish you had asked before moving to your current ministry?

I wrote Before You Go in an effort to share insights resulting from my own naivete in working with two churches, as well as from conversations I’ve had with pastors who are convinced that moving to a new church is the best way to relieve frustrations with their current ministry. I suggest a number of probing questions that will benefit both pastors and churches as they navigate the complexities of the search process.

I ask two kinds of questions in Before You Go. I begin with some introspective questions designed to get pastors to focus more on the kind of people they are becoming rather than the kind of church they want to lead.

Most pastors change churches for the wrong reasons. They end up just as disappointed in their new church as they were in their previous one because they fail to address the changes they needed to make within themselves before they moved.

If you can’t answer the question of how you will be different in your new setting, you’re not ready to move on and shouldn’t expect much to change except your zip code.

The second kind of questions deal with the specifics of the church the pastor is considering. During the interview process, pastors are interviewing the church just as much as they are being interviewed by the church. I’m amazed at how little thought most pastors put into the questions they ask the search team during the interview.

Consider the search process a great opportunity to play the role of detective: asking questions, chasing leads, and following hunches. Every church has a few secrets that don’t make it into the opportunity description packet, some of which will have a huge impact on your ministry if you accept the job. You owe it to yourself and your family to do some digging.

Ultimately, there is no way of guaranteeing that things will go well in your next church. You can, however, increase the likelihood of having a productive ministry, while also diminishing the level of regret you’ll experience if things turn sour, by asking (and answering) as many great questions as possible before you go.

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