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My church is making it through the pandemic. Is it OK for me to leave?

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, pews, church
Members of the congregation participate in a mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception June 22, 2020, in Washington, D.C. |

A great reshuffling is beginning to take place. Many pastors are considering leaving their positions or transitioning to a new ministry. It’s not surprising. The pandemic has caused a lot of people, not just pastors, to rethink their professions.

Unlike some jobs, pastors do not have the ability to work from anywhere. A church is in a specific location. Pastors are called to a people in a place. The church is a gathered people with an address. I realize there are a handful of examples of digital churches, but most congregations meet at physical locations and will continue to do so.

Not every church has recovered from the last year, but many are beginning to stabilize. They may be smaller, but they are not going to close their doors. Now that the crisis has abated for these churches, some pastors are considering a transition. If that’s you, how can you know it’s OK to leave? The last time we had a pandemic on this scale was 100 years ago. A frame of reference doesn’t exist.

First, it’s good to understand the motive behind a transition. Why are pastors wanting to leave or transition right now?

  1. Exhaustion: Pastors are not the only people who are tired. Just about everyone is! But the pandemic sucked the energy out of many pastors as they tried to make decisions about opening and closing, safety protocols, and digital services. Decision fatigue is hitting pastors especially hard.
  2. Change of scenery: Not every local and state government responded the same way, and churches in different regions had different requirements placed on them. In some regions, many believed the threats to religious liberty were real. Whether you agree or not, the reality is an exodus out of places like California and New York is occurring.
  3. Family: The loss of life is staggering, and pastors were not shielded. Many lost family members. Pastors, like others who have lost loved ones, are considering a move to be closer to other family members or desire to move back to their hometown.
  4. A new sense of calling: A crisis should prompt reflection. As pastors reflect, many are thinking about a new season of ministry.
  5. Getting pushed out: One of the ugliest parts of the pandemic in churches was the number of pastors who were pushed out. Unfortunately, power groups used the crisis for an evil cause. At Church Answers, we’ve heard story after story about pastors who were asked to leave during the pandemic.
  6. Retirement: While many pastors planned to stay in their roles into their 70s, the pandemic caused many to exit sooner than they anticipated. Some pastors retired early. Others used the last year to enact a succession plan.

Second, if you are considering making a transition, how do you make the decision? Asking some important questions can help you filter your thoughts. 

  1. Is the feeling recent or prolonged? Rash decisions are not good. Don’t make decisions when you are experiencing depression or anxiety. If the desire to move is recent, spend some time in prayer first. If you can’t shake the thought, then ask trusted mentors and advisors for their wisdom.
  2. Are you running from problems? Pastors who run from problems in churches often create more problems in their new churches.
  3. What is the push/pull factor? Most transitions are validated through a simple filter. You should feel a tug away from your church, and you should feel a pull toward a new church. In most cases, if you are only experiencing a push factor, then you are likely running from your problems. And if you are only experiencing a pull factor, then it’s likely a grass-is-greener syndrome.
  4. What is your family saying? Every marriage is different, but in most cases, it is not wise for a spouse to decide to move unilaterally. If you have older children, then include them in the decision as well. Ministry transitions tend to go better when the family has worked together to make the decision.

You’ve led your church through the pandemic. Perhaps your church is beginning to stabilize after the crisis. The thought is there. You want to transition to another church or into another role. It’s not necessarily a bad thought. Just make sure you filter your thoughts in a way that helps you discern God’s call. 

Originally published at Church Answers 

Posted on March 6, 2021

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.

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