Knowing When to Walk Away

Research and analysis done by many psychologists shows that humans get an itch for significant change every 7 to 10 years. Some believe part is this is related to how our cells regenerate every 7 years. We change half of our main friendships every 7 years. Obviously all this is a bit subjective, but based on the experience of most of us, this holds true. Something about our mind is “trained” to desire significant changes almost every decade, including our jobs.

Let’s get one thing straight, church ministry jobs are more than just jobs. This doesn’t mean that pastoral jobs should be highly sought after, instead it is the reality of ministry being a lifestyle vocation more than something we punch in and out of everyday. Signing up to help lead a church is a high calling, one that should not be taken lightly. But the pastoral profession is not immune to the psychological need many of us have for change.

I’m not thinking of any specific circumstances, but I can think of many situations in which a pastor (in my mind) clearly needed to move on for the betterment of their own life and the life of their current ministry context. Sometimes this is forced by a congregation wanting change and the pastor being unable to do so. The statistics on pastoral turnover in churches is not good. Worship and youth pastors are said to change jobs every 2 years. And really all of this is centered around an unhealthy understanding of the ways God points us in new directions. What I want to focus on is change and trying to discern when transition is necessary within the church ministry context..

Every couple weeks I meet with a professor at my seminary along with a few fellow seminary students to talk life and ministry. Last week I brought up this subject of how we, as ministers, can know when God is leading us somewhere else. Everyone, at some point, will have to deal with wondering whether it’s time to go, but it seems very few are equipped to notice the cues that point us in new directions

Here are some good indications (all brought forward by my fellow seminarians) of how to know when God is saying it’s time to move on:

Is your heart in it?

Here’s the first question to ask. This isn’t the end-all, be-all question, but it does put into place whether God may be leading somewhere else. Self-evaluation through prayer and meditation is where this process must begin.

Is it just a paycheck?

Understanding the motivations of our hearts and minds in the midst of church ministry is key to knowing why we serve the church. If it’s just a paycheck we’re likely only motivated to serve because it pays our bills rather than because we’re operating exactly where God desires us to be.

However, this must be said as well…Sometimes (for a season of life) God puts us in difficult and trying situations in order to help us grow in the long run.

What has God given you a passion for? How is God directing your passions?

This goes hand in hand with the last section on change and transition. Our passions change. None of us are the same today as we were 10 years ago. It is important to continue evaluating what God is doing within us and how that affects where God is leading us. If our passions no longer fit our current position it might be time to move on.

Seek out trusted peers

All of us have blind spots and none of us have perfect perspective, so seeking out the advice and input from trusted people is incredibly vital when considering where God is leading.

Certainly we shouldn’t base a decision entirely on the advice of others but often God will use the people around us to help push us in the direction He desires. I often find the people I trust are able to articulate where I sense God moving much more than I can when I’m left to my own thoughts.

Evaluate the difference between change and transition

William Bridges’ book Transitions was a challenging read for me as I processed through how he outlines the difference between change and transition.

Change is situational. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological. It is not those events, but rather the inner re-orientation and self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of those changes into your life. Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture. Unless transition happens, the change won’t work, because it doesn’t “take” (page xii).

Pursuing after a ministry change without understanding the psychological transitions going on deep down in ourselves is a foolish thing to do.

What advice would you give to someone trying to discern whether it’s time to move on or not?

(Let me know also say I believe God often calls us to stay in difficult situations because we are apart of His solution. Ed Stetzer wrote a thoughtful and encouraging post for those considering what God is up to when He seems to be keeping us in situations that would be easy to run away from.)