How Do You Know When It’s Time to Move on from a Ministry Position?

How Do You Know When It’s Time to Move on from a Ministry Position? November 17, 2022

In December, I’ll be leaving the congregation I’ve served for the last decade and moving on to become the lead pastor of a congregation in another central Kansas small town.  I feel gratitude for what has been and relish the possibilities of this future position.  But I’ve also experienced grief as I release a congregation and community that have been good to us.

How do we know when it’s time to move on from a ministry position?  Here are four thoughts:

1 – Just like we know anything.  

To discern any decision well we have to live a discerning life.  Paul calls it being “transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12:2).  That transformation is an ongoing condition, a state of being rooted and grounded in Jesus.  Paul goes on to say that it’s from that life under transformation that we “discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  It’s those who run every day who are ready to sprint when the moment calls for it.

2 – Watch for signs from God.

“Going through an open door” can be a christian-eze cliche standing in for “taking an opportunity.”  Nevertheless, God really does open doors (Colossians 4:3; Revelation 3:8).  Things will coalesce and come together in ways we had not expected or anticipated with a timing that seems impossibly true.  Sometimes—though not always—that’s God opening a door.  Pay attention to it.  What distinguishes God’s open door in ministry from run-of-the-mill career advancement is that the open door may mean entering into something hard.  With God, challenge accompanies possibility.

3 – Seek confirmation from wise guides.  

Open doors will be accompanied by confirmation from wise guides.  Sometimes, they’ll come to us (Have you thought about applying to…?).  Sometimes, we’ll need to seek them out to test the spirit of what we’re experiencing (Does this sound to you like it’s of God?).  Often, it’s both.  I know a pastor who was ready to quit after a rough season in church planting.  He assembled a cadre of trusted Christian leaders who committed to pray and fast and then gather for a morning with him to listen to God together.  The pastor was surprised when the group leaned toward him staying, and it gave him and his wife renewed energy to continue in their assignment.  

My call to a new ministry began when a leader who was key to bringing me to Kansas invited me to consider the position.  After praying my way forward and checking in with my wife and sons, I tested the possibility with my spiritual director.  The wise counsel I received pointed to a green light.

4 – Listen for inner confirmation.

Paul advised Timothy to “pay close attention” to himself (1 Timothy 4:16).  Discerning God’s leading involves discerning what’s going on in our own spirits.  Know thyself.  There will be signs within us: a sense of peace, of rightness, of possibility.  Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order who wrote a lot about discernment, calls us to watch for faith, hope, and love in our decisions.  Does this new possibility lead us to greater faith in God?  And so forth.  A journal comes in handy.

Question restlessness.  Is God genuinely calling me to something different, or is it that I’m bored, burnt out, or tangled in the sin of acedia?  Ignatius again: Don’t make a big decision during a dark time (what he calls “desolation”).  Instead, seek to push through to continue in whatever direction you had previously discerned.  

Practice stability.  It’s generally better to remain in place with people—even (especially) the difficult people.  Yet while stability is good, it’s not the ultimate good.  Mary pointed to Jesus in Cana by telling the servants to “do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).  If Jesus has led us into a place, we can be confident that he will tell us when it’s time to go back out.

Following Jesus means learning to live with a certain level of unfinishedness.  We befriend uncertainty as the grace of the living God who honors our wills and wants as he invites us into the slow work of becoming who he has created us to be.

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