Sunday, October 18, 2020

So You Have Decided to Go; What Now?

 Pastoral Transitions 6

          In the first set of posts in this series we discussed how to decide whether to leave your current ministry or to stay and continue serving the Lord right where you are at. Go or stay, basically. If you have decided to stay then there is no immediate point in continuing to read this series. I am sincerely happy for you, and I trust the Lord will give you grace, mercy, and peace as you continue to labor in your familiar portion of the vineyard. On the other hand, if you have decided it is time to go, the question that then immediately follows is, “What do I do now?” Assuming your intention is to continue in the ministry, albeit at another location, it is this question our blog post today purports to answer.

          Let me begin by saying the overarching principle that governs your approach here is two-fold: 1) you must totally depend upon God, and 2) you must work at this project with all your of your might. Unfortunately, much of the advice you will receive in this scenario revolves more around the first than the second, and often revolves around the first to the exclusion of the second. Such an approach – that we ought to sit still while we wait for God to send the next ministry opportunity wafting down to us out of Heaven – is unscriptural and unbalanced. Yes, I realize it is possible to take all the responsibility upon yourself, to fallow the field of prayer, and to work away at it hammer and tongs ignoring the plan, purpose, and provision of God all the while. But, honestly, how many men in ministry do you know like that? Especially about this particular question? I know none. More often, the course now presented as advisable to the man seeking his next ministry is to essentially do nothing while waiting on God to do something. By implication if not suggestion, actively turning something up is a lack of faith combined with an abundance of presumption. Emphatically, I reject such counsel.

          In Psalm 104, while discussing the animal kingdom, the psalmist informs us that God provides them with the food they need to live, but in the very next breath he informs us that they have to work at obtaining that which God has provided. These wait all upon thee; That thou mayest give them their meat in due season. That thou givest them they gather: Thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good (Psalm 104.27-28). The psalmist illustrates this with the lion. The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God (Psalm 104.21). God gives the lion his food but he must go get it. In other words, God will provide food for even those in the animal kingdom, but He will not rain it down on their lazy head. They have to get up and actively pursue it. They must roar after their prey if they are going to receive what God has for them.

          In truth, the animal kingdom is only a facet of the universal application of this principle. For example, in II Kings 3 Israel, while invading Moab, found its horses dying of thirst. Elisha told them that God would send them water – if the people would dig all kinds of ditches. In the very next chapter, God promised the prophet’s widow He would provide oil for her but she had to go get the vessels to put it in. In Genesis 3.19 and II Thessalonians 3.10 we are explicitly commanded to work at obtaining our provision. Proverbs 18.24 tells us that the way to obtain friends is to be friendly, to work at befriending others. If I want to fill my church auditorium full to bursting Luke 14.23 implies I should go find people and bring them in. And I could go and on and on. If God is leading you from one ministry to the next, He will provide the next, but you cannot just sit there waiting for it to appear. You must work at finding it all the while you are completely depending upon the Lord to provide it.

          “Ok, Bro. Brennan, you have convinced me. What I still don’t know is how to do that. I’ve decided to go, like Abraham, I know not where. I understand I need to work at it. What do I do next?”

          Pray.

“But you just got done telling me not to sit and wait on God to magically furnish something. Now you are telling me to ask Him to magically furnish something.” No, I am not. I am counseling you to take your burdens to the Lord. Tell Him what He already knows. Pour out your heart at His feet. Tell Him your need and your family’s need and your church’s need. Beg for guidance, for protection from yourself, for His perfect will. Lay your will at His feet. And do it again and again and again, week after week, month after month, year after year for as long as it takes. I am eminently for the practical in these matters but the spiritual must ever take precedence. Pray.

          The most obvious next step is to tell others that you are looking for what comes next, but prior even to that immediate step you must decide whom to tell. It is precisely here that we find our first sticky wicket. Should you or should you not inform your current church that you are planning to leave? There are those who say you should. They assert that not to do so is to be deceptive and dishonest. After all, if you are really trusting God you should be as aboveboard as possible. You should go the extra mile, remove any possible question, and be a man of open integrity.

          To put it simply, I absolutely disagree, not with the fact we should be men of integrity but that this integrity demands we be immediately public about our current thinking and plans. I say that for several reasons. First, there are many other areas of pastoring to which we would never apply this thinking. There are numerous aspects of ministry that we keep private for the time being and yet still manage to maintain our integrity while doing so. Additionally, in my judgment, you will paralyze your ability to lead your current church if they realize you are contemplating leaving. The phrase “lame duck” is in our political vocabulary for a reason. They will interpret every decision you make through the lens of your pursuit of another ministry and your soon coming absence. Their confidence in your judgment and their willingness to accede to your scriptural authority will both erode. “Listen, Pastor, I know you think our church should do such and such but you aren’t even planning on staying. How can you possibly make decisions for us when you won’t be here to see them through?” And that is the polite form of that conversation. It only gets uglier. The followship spirit of a church will be ruined if they know you plan to leave. And as that followship spirit deteriorates you will feel more and more pressure to find your next situation soonest, which pressure is disastrous for careful, prayerful, patient consideration of the next situation. There may come a time when you need to fire that bullet, to mix metaphors, but hold it for the last bullet in your gun. Do not rush to inform your current church of your plans; only do that as a last resort.   

          I would counsel then that while you ought to inform some people of your decision that circle should be kept rather narrow. Choose men whom you know well and whom you trust. Preachers are networkers by default, for the most part. They often hear through the grapevine of some pastor leaving or some church looking for a pastor. If they know you well and trust you, they will pass that information along to you. At the same time, they will keep the knowledge of your desire for a different ministry in complete confidence. That confidence is essential. Loose lips sink ships, so to speak. If you think it wisest not to inform your current ministry of your search for what comes next, but some pastor of your acquaintance carelessly lets that fact slip to others it could very easily make its way back to your congregation by the back door. This may well cause even more harm by its arrival in that manner than if you had informed your church yourself.

          In my case, when I made the decision to leave my pastorate in Chicago I combed through my pastor friends and chose those I wanted to inform of my decision. I then wrote a letter informing them of my desire. In that letter, I explained the thinking that had led me to that point so they could understand I was not just running from something or dissatisfied with my current arrangement. You will recall, we talked about this a few weeks ago. In that letter to those pastors I then discussed in broad parameters what kind of situation I was open to next. (We will discuss this in a future post.) I closed by asking them to keep this information in confidence, and to kindly inform me if and when they became aware of anything that fit those parameters. In the end, this approach led directly to my current pastorate, though much water would flow under the bridge in the intervening time period.

          Along with informing a select circle of your friends, there are a number of different places online where such information is archived. For example, there are several Facebook groups that actively seek to connect men looking for a pastorate with churches looking for a pastor. Join those groups, read each post, and follow up with those churches that initially seem a good fit. In addition to social media, there are also a number of websites that attempt to list every independent Baptist church in the United States, or even some foreign countries. These websites will list each church they find, that church’s website, address, phone number, and current pastor. Since there are always some churches without a pastor, they will often categorize those in some searchable database. Often that information is incorrect, but occasionally it is correct. Combing through those databases will produce leads for you. Besides social media groups and online church databases, there are several independent Baptist evangelists who actively maintain lists of churches looking for pastors. Indeed, there are actually some ministries dedicated entirely to this. When you come across such men or ministries, communicate in simple terms your desire to access that information and they will tell you how to do so.

          Understanding the philosophical and practical approach I have given you thus far what I am going to say next should be no surprise. Work at it. Set aside some time every week to work on looking for your next ministry opportunity. Read the posts in those Facebook groups. Search the online databases. Read the communications from the evangelists and placement ministries. Do not do it every day, by any means. Doing so will pull your attention away from your current ministry in an unhealthy way. But do it regularly. Do it even when it seems like nothing new ever pops up. Do it even when you are frustrated and weary with it. Do it even when you are discouraged. Just like any other job, show up and work hard even when you do not feel like it.

          In so doing, from time to time, a position that intrigues you will cross your path. Do not immediately call them. Before you do that, spend some time researching the opportunity. Try to find everything about the church in question you possibly can. Learn how to dig. See if you have any friends in common who might know something about that church. If you do, call them. Ask them how well they know the church, and press them for any specifics as to its immediately prior and current situation. Obviously, you will want to read every word written on the church’s website. In my case, depending on my level of interest, I would also read every post on the church’s Facebook or Twitter page. I wanted to gather as much information about that church as I possibly could to inform my decision as to whether to pursue the opportunity or not. Even the absence of available information tells you something.

          In addition to in-depth research on the church in question, examine in some detail the city in which the church is located. Read the Wikipedia articles about the town and the county. Access the town’s website. Find the tourist websites for the area and read what they have to say, always keeping in mind their slant. Type the town’s name or the church’s zip code into City-data. This website gives you detailed demographic, crime, housing, education, and employment information. City-data also hosts forums where people discuss what real life is like in these cities and neighborhoods. Search them for information on the town or area in question and read the threads that come up. Gather as much  information as you can.

          “Tom, that sounds like a whole lot of work.” Truer words were never spoken. I am not exaggerating when I say that the time I spent looking for my next church included  hundreds of hours doing such tasks. My family was too important to trust to some hap-hazard, seat-of-the-pants approach. I did my homework, massive amounts of it. In so doing, I ruled out many more churches than I ruled in. Conservatively, I examined hundreds of such pastorates but I only took the next step with less than twenty. It is not spray and pray. It is selectively target based on lots of research and pray.

          Once you have ruled in an opportunity what do you do next? I would counsel you to send the church your resume along with a cover letter written specifically for that church. I am not going to patronize you with advice about how to write a resume other than to say it should include your personal information, your family information, your ministry experience, your doctrinal statement, and perhaps some of your ministry philosophy. You may also choose to include references. But the cover letter is just as important as the resume. It says to the church that you are personally invested in them, that you have taken some time to research, think, and pray about their situation. You can also use it to briefly explain why you think you may be a good fit for their specific situation.

          In some cases, if you know of someone who has a direct connection to the church you can ask them to hand deliver it. That carries more impact than a letter showing up in the mail from someone they have never heard of. Regardless, send the resume. If several weeks go by without a response follow up with a kind phone call to the church. Simply ask them to confirm that they received the resume.

          In a future post we will discuss what comes next, but for the moment let me offer you one more vital thought for your consideration at this point. The importance of this concept is outsize to the space I have to devote to it. Having done all of this research and sent your resume, do your best to forget the church entirely. This is both tremendously difficult and vitally necessary. All that work will attach your heart to the possibilities inherent in this ministry but it is not your ministry to lead at this point. You already have one of those. And you cannot lead the one you have effectively if you are constantly thinking about another one. So forget it. Not only that, but the sad truth is the average church you send your resume to will not even bother to respond. They do not understand how much you have already invested in them, and no one has taught them the simple courtesy of a response. Your resume will probably vanish into the ether never to be seen again. Consequently, you must move on to the next research project. It just has to be done.

You will be tempted to constantly check your phone and your email and your mailbox for messages from said church. Do not. You will be repeatedly tempted to pull up their Facebook page to see if there is any news about their pastoral search. Do not. Their live feed will beckon you. Ignore it. You have done your due diligence. You have fulfilled God’s intention for you to work hard at obtaining His provision. Now leave the response in His hands.

          They are wonderfully beneficent hands.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

For the Assistant Pastor Considering the Pastorate

Pastoral Transitions 5

Note: Today's post is by Robert Pophal. He pastors the Rose Park Baptist Church in Holland, Michigan. Prior to accepting this pastorate a couple of years ago he spent many years serving on staff at two other churches. In today's piece he offers his perspective on the assistant pastor who finds himself contemplating a senior pastor position.
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It is a privilege to guest write this article for Brother Tom. I pray that it will be a help for all those who are contemplating this decision of how, when, or is God calling me to make the transition from an assistant role to that of Senior Pastor.   

The Lord has brought me through a 26-year period of ministry in four different churches, the last of which was the step into the role of the Senior Pastor.  This is my story and the lessons I have learned along the way.

If your time is short and you just want to cut to the “what do I need to know and do” you can short cut to the “good” stuff toward the end of the article.

 

The Journey Begins

My ministry journey began in the summer of 1991 from the humble soundings of a sparsely furnished hotel room in Ulaanbaatar the capital of Mongolia when I surrendered my life to be a preacher of the Gospel.  I and a few others were there smuggling in Bibles and gospel literature to a group of believers in the capital city.  While others were rejoicing in my call, I was bewildered as I considered myself the least likely candidate to be a preacher.

 

It Is a Blessed but Bumpy Road

Since that seminal day I’ve been honored to serve in various assistant role in three different churches, all in Ohio.  The church where I was attending when I surrendered to the ministry ordained me after I graduated from Bible college. However, a year later I resigned and returned that ordination and left as we were heading in different ministry directions.  I left broken hearted, wounded and sure of only that I was indeed following the Lord’s leading.

From there the Lord directed me to a good church under a strong Pastor.  After a year of proving, I was again ordained into the gospel ministry and put on as an unpaid church staff member.  The Lord allowed my wife and me to grow both spiritually and experientially for ten years in this ministry.   By now I was in my thirties and more than a few times the question was put to me, "When are you going to get your own church?” I told them frankly that I had no idea as that was God’s bidding not mine.  The question did begin to nag at me though. The honest answer was that God had never made that calling clear. I knew God called me to serve Him and follow Him as He led and was doing that.   

The Lord saw fit to transition us out of this church after ten years, this time by the call to step into full time paid ministry.  By this point my wife and I both had been climbing up the corporate ladder at a large insurance company in our “day jobs”.  If transitioning out of the first church was a test of simple obedience our transition from the second church was a test of trusting God to supply. 

We entered this new season of ministry with a four-year commitment to stay on staff thinking that surely the day would come soon that the Lord would entrust to me the clear calling to be THE PASTOR.  Four years turned into five, and then to ten.  By now I was in my mid-forties as a youth pastor and yearning to do more than teen time, games and snacks.   

About a year or so before the Lord finally did open the door for me to pastor, things began to be awkward at the church where I was serving.  The pastor and I could both sense that this could not go on indefinitely but absent the Lord’s clear call to leave we were not sure what to do.  We talked about it, prayed, took steps of preparation and yet the door remained shut.  My pastor pushed me to pray, be open, seek God’s will, and put myself out there.  It was not always pleasant, but it was necessary.

Right about the point where I thought that I would absolutely lose my sanity as a nearly 50-year-old assistant / youth Pastor the Lord opened the door for us to come to Holland, Michigan for me to become the Pastor of Rose Park Baptist Church. 

Here are some observations and exhortations from this journey:

 

Understanding Your Call (2 Peter 1:10)

For most of my ministry journey I was quite jealous of men who seemed to have a very clear “vision” of their calling and knew exactly the steps they were going to take on their very sure trajectory to be THE PASTOR.  All I knew for sure was God had called me to serve Him and I was following. 

I did come to settle this in my heart: the call to the ministry is NOT automatically the call to be the pastor of a church.  In the Scriptures it is evident that God calls and gifts different men in different ways (1 Corinthians 12:11).  It was not until about a year before becoming a pastor that the Lord really settled the matter in my heart.  I had been called to the ministry, of that I had no doubt, but I wanted to be sure in my own heart God was indeed calling me to be a pastor.  Seek the Lord to understand your calling from God.  Be grateful, content and secure in your calling, whatever it is.

 

Do You Desire the Office? (I Timothy 3:1)

If you are contemplating the transition you must first search your heart to ask if you want to take this step of faith and except both the burdens and blessings of being a pastor.  Before you shoot your hand up, take a good long look at the number of ministry casualties and talk to a few pastors about the cost of the calling.  It’s a LOT harder than I thought and even now I feel woefully unprepared.  Most importantly ask God if that is what He wants from your life.  

 

Becoming a “Real” Man of God (1 Timothy 4:12)

As you are seeking God’s will, evaluate why you want to become a Pastor.  It ought to be because of the calling of God or the desire to more fully serve the Saviour and His people.  It can be easy from an assistant’s perspective to desire the office because of the authority and notoriety it brings.

Many men who are assistants seek to be the senior pastor in a quest for validation.  The lack of respect and recognition of their ministry as a staff pastor is subtly reinforced many ways in our churches.  It is hard not to get itchy for respect especially after serving more than just a few years in the ministry.  This lack of respect stems, in my opinion, from two main sources.

First is the desire to be “The Man of God”. Everyone wants to be Peter or Paul.  Few aspire to be in the “junior league” of a John Mark or, Heaven forbid, an Alphaeus, of whom nothing is ever mentioned in the Bible except his name. (He was one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus).  We grew up learning about the great leaders of the faith and we aspire to be one.  

Second, there is a pervasive church culture that ONLY the Senior Pastor really counts in a ministry.  Since most churches can only afford one main Pastor on staff this has become the “normal” church experience. There is one Pastor and he is THE Pastor and everyone else is in a supportive role.  The others on staff are usually a young youth pastor or assistant gaining ministry experience until they ready someday to go out pastor a church of their own. 

If we look at the number of Pastors who either drop out of the ministry or are moving from church to church I believe that a leading cause is that these men were either not ready or not called to office of the Pastor yet they saw it as the only “real” office in the ministry and thus their only option to be validated in the ministry.

 

Let it Come from God (Psalms 75:6-7)

If, or when, you are led of the Lord into the office of the pastor, be sure you do so in God’s will and His time. A very real issue that affects the decision of some to seek the pastorate is that of a difficult ministry environment.  This could be finances or a very real difficulty in the relationship to the senior pastor or others in the church.  Wait on God, if He has called you then trust Him to lead you. Do not allow yourself to be frustrated into a ministry move out of God’s will or timing.

 

Embrace the Journey (Psalm 37:23)

I can say this: God is always right, and He is always right on time.  As I look back over the years of preparation each one was needed and profitable, and each one helped prepare my wife and me for the roles that we now fulfill.  God has not forgotten you; He is preparing you.  Decide to give it everything you have right where God has you.  Abraham Lincoln said, “Prepare yourself and be ready and perhaps your chance will come.”

 

It’s a Bumpy Ride (2 Timothy 3:11)

It would be great if one day the phone rings and a church wants you, and everyone is happy for you, and your house sells right away, and things just go peachy.  It would be great, but it rarely does.  I am mindful of the transitions of Daniel and Joseph in the Bible.  God used them greatly but, man, it was a rough ride.  Our transitions between churches have been tough, tumultuous, and not without tears and fear. 


Understanding the Signs (Matthew 16:3)

If God is leading you to be a pastor He will let you know or your wife or those counselling you.  Sometimes fear and self-doubt can hold you back.  God will work through your leadership and He will direct in your circumstances.  God often works through difficult situations and circumstances to bring us to better things.

 


Transitioning well (Acts 24:16)

Of utmost importance in this whole process is to honor God and to transition well.  I can say that each transition we made was hard, the cost in money, and things were said or done that hurt us.  I thank God for a good and godly wife who is fiercely devoted to her Lord and to doing right.  More than once she helped me to shut my mouth, pray about it, and trust the Lord.   Decide that no matter the circumstances of the transition you will ALWAYS do right by God and others. 


The Importance of Counsel and Prayer

I close, on purpose, with the MOST IMPORTANT piece of advice I can: PRAY ABOUT IT and get LOTS of counsel about the matter.  This is a life changing decision for you, your family, the church you are leaving and the church you may go to.  These are people’s lives that are in the balance, not the least of which is yours. 

 

 



Monday, October 5, 2020

But, God, I Wasn't Looking

Pastoral Transitions 4 

Note: Today's blog post is by Allen Thompson. He pastors the Maplewood Bible Baptist Church in Chicago. If you know me, you know this is the church I previously pastored for sixteen years. I will write more about this later in this series, but when I decided to leave there I recommended Bro. Thompson to their consideration, though he knew nothing of any of that. Called to minister to the inner-city, several years prior he had started a church in Baltimore. Now, suddenly and entirely unsolicited by him, he was being asked to consider the Chicago pastorate. In your ministry, it is more than likely than you will be faced with a similar scenario a time or two. His counsel here on how to handle this will help you.

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“I have recommended you to the pulpit committee.  I’m not sure if they will call you, but they have your information.” These words rang in my ears as I processed what I had been told.  A multitude of thoughts suddenly filled my mind.  I was not seeking a move, on the contrary, I despise moving. I had no intention of leaving my current ministry.  I was content.  I was where the Lord wanted me to be, right?  My thoughts raced, but came to an abrupt stop as the phone quickly rang again.  “Pastor Thompson, I am calling because you have been recommended to us as a potential candidate to fill the role of our new pastor.  I am asking that you please pray about the position.”  I, assuming God would have me to stay at my current ministry, agreed to pray with the committee about the potential offer.

The assumption that the Lord wanted me to stay put was a hasty thought.  I had been offered pastoral positions before and the Lord did not give me peace about accepting those offers.  I assumed He would give the same directions again, but this time He did not.  The more time I spent praying, the more the Lord began to stir my heart.  In the end, He consumed my own desires to stay and moved my family and I from our church plant in Baltimore, Maryland to the new pastorate position in Chicago, IL. 

Though individual circumstances may vary in the details, there were several things I considered while seeking the Lord’s direction. These thoughts may not apply to every situation, or exhaust a list of possible considerations, but they were helpful to guide me through the process of making the decision. Ultimately, I decided to go.


I considered the Lord.

There are times in life when it feels as if personal decisions are on trial for each witness to give an unsolicited account of his point of view.  These opinions are diverse and can often cause complication in the decision process. However, when it is all said and done, and the final ruling is made, the opinion of the Lord is what holds the greatest value.

When faced with a great decision, I must seek the Lord with great fervency. Isaiah 26:3 says that Thou will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because He trusteth in thee.  I spent a great deal of additional time in prayer, fasting, and in His word.  I needed to be sure that I was in tune with His spirit.  I looked for assurance of the direction He wanted me to take.  God gave me unsurpassed peace to go; so assured was I of His direction that I wrote the date in my Bible to remind me of His conviction on my heart.

The single most important part of the entire decision-making process is how the Lord leads your heart.  I had a peace to go that I did not have in trying to stay.


I considered my calling.

God had called me to preach, more specifically, to pastor.  He had burdened my heart for the city.  The offered position fit perfectly into the framework of what the Lord had constructed in my heart.  I would not be forsaking a calling, or a burden, to pursue an offer.  The new ministry would allow me to build upon the foundations the Lord had already established.

 

I considered my family.

My wife and my kids are my most important ministry.  God established the family before He ever established the church.  If my family is not in order, I cannot fulfil the role of a pastor effectively, or in some cases, at all. It was important to me to ensure a move would not sacrifice our home. 

The new position would not hurt my family.  It would meet our needs and allow a balanced division between family time and pastoral duties. It was a good fit.

In addition, it was important to me to have the full support of my wife. It was with united peace that we choose to go.


I considered wise counsel.

Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety. I sought wise counsel.  I spoke to men who had served God faithfully with unblemished testimonies.  They started churches, built strong families, established strong ministries, and had an evident walk with the Lord.  These men were experienced in the faith and their advice held great value to me.

My counselors were unanimous in their advice.  I would pursue the offer as far as the Lord would allow and ask Him to close the door if it was not the path He would have for me to take. 

The Lord did not shut the door, instead He guided me through it.


I considered the position of the new ministry.

A lateral move is when you find yourself in the same exact position and circumstances but in a new location.  This offer would not fall into that category. It would, on the contrary, allow me to give more of myself to the Lord, my family, and to the ministry. 

The new position would allow further progression to fulfill my God given calling and burden.


I considered the nature of the new ministry.

It is important for a pastor to have the support of his church congregation if they are going to function effectively for the cause of Christ.  It was important to me to be like minded with the members of the new ministry. It was important to me to have a sense that my family and I would be accepted and well received with the overwhelming majority.  It was important for me to consider the state of the flock that I would oversee.

The church was a united body of believers serving with good will as to the Lord and ready to welcome my family and I with the love of Christ.


I considered the process.

A move requires a great deal.  It is quite a daunting task when you consider the list of things required to relocate and the time and money it takes to make it all come together.  It was important that the details were discussed and appropriate solutions were put in place to transition.  God is not the author of confusion and He delights in the details.  He provided each step of the way, further cementing His desire for our family to go.

My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways saith the Lord.  Isaiah 55:8

The phone call was unsolicited.  The question was unexpected.  Thoughts filled my mind like pieces to a new jigsaw puzzle fill the table waiting for someone to make sense of it all. God, however, fit those pieces of the puzzle together in such way that I could not deny His direction.  I considered many a thing, but in the end, the picture was clear, I was to go.  


Saturday, September 26, 2020

Why Stay?

 Pastoral Transitions 3

Note: Today's post is by Jeremy Huston. Along with being Dean of Men at Providence Baptist College, he pastors Foundation Baptist Church in Cary, Illinois, which he founded eleven years ago. As a church planter, he understands hard times. He knows what it is like to contemplate the greener grass on the other side of the fence. But through it all, he has chosen to stay. I think any pastoral consideration about leaving needs to be balanced with serious consideration of staying. Today, he offers us some thoughts for our consideration along those lines. 

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Many pastors experience times of uncertainty and frustration over the course of their years of ministry. We wonder if what we are doing and where we are serving is beneficial and is the best use of our time and spiritual gifting. 

During such difficult periods, it is often tempting to look over the fence for greener pastures. 

At other instances, as you are content and faithfully serving the Lord with your hand to the plow and trodding along the row to hoe that God has called you to tend, there will possibly come a phone call about an opportunity to go serve in a different pastorate. Because the recommendations for these roles have often come from men that we admire, we sometimes feel obligated to consider them. It is honoring and humbling all at the same time! 

Sometimes it is God’s will and He has prepared you to go on to a different field. Though it is hard to leave the people that you lovingly have shepherded, it is apparent God is moving you along.

Other times it is tempting to get the chance to serve a larger congregation or to be appreciated for your faithfulness and fruitfulness, but God is not leading you to go elsewhere. 

How do you know when to go or when to stay?

I don’t have a personal answer for you as God’s Spirit must be your guide; but maybe these thoughts on “why to stay“ can help in your decision-making process as you seek God’s perfect will.

I don’t personally know about going from one pastorate to another. I’ve been approached several times about candidating for a pastoral opening. But through personal prayer, biblical counsel, and seeking the leading of the Spirit, so far each time I have felt compelled to stay and serve where God has placed me. (I did leave an assistant pastoral position to plant FBC in 2009; I don’t believe that decision was very comparable to being asked to consider leaving one pastorate for another.) 

Sometimes the choice to stay has not been easy. Other times it has not been tempting to leave at all. Maybe the thought processes I have gone through at various times will benefit you as you consider what God would have you to do. The following talking points are not necessarily in order of importance, but maybe they’ll help you prayerfully contemplate what God would have you do if you find yourself asking whether you should stay or go.

Why stay?


1- Because God’s will is not just a “what,” but also a “where.” 

(If God called you to it, He should be the only One who can call you away from it.)

Paul had a Macedonian call. Jonah was called to Nineveh. Jesus must needs go through Samaria. The Spirit led Philip from Damascus to the wilderness to reach the Ethiopian eunuch. 

I believe that you can fulfill the call to ambassadorship for Christ most anywhere, but I see illustrations throughout the Scriptures that point to the fact that God often has a specific location where He wants us to fulfill His purpose. As you assay to go to Asia, God might specifically set your course for Macedonia. Let God be God in your life!

Why stay?

2- Because you care about the people who could be left without a leader.

The church that is requesting you to come has a group of needy people; but don’t forsake the ones you have been called to care for while looking for a better gig. 

Sheep need a Shepherd. Yes, they have God; but God has placed you there as His undershepherd to lead, guide, and guard them. Don’t get so excited about another flock that you forget to care for the ones you are employed to serve. Don’t be a hireling.

Why stay?

3- Because of the people of the area who are yet to be reached. 

Don’t be shortsighted. If things haven’t taken off as you hoped they would, and you feel you are spinning your wheels, and you are struggling to reach others; still remember we are called to faithfulness. God will make us fruitful. He makes all things beautiful in His time. But we must stay through till harvest time!

Why stay?

4- Because sometimes what appears better isn’t. 

What can’t you see? 

Everything about another pastorate might be wonderful! Or maybe there will shortly be disunity, church splits, or scandals that haven’t been exposed yet. All that glitters is not gold.

Why stay?

5- Because shallow roots produce little to nothing. 

Have you digged about it and dunged around it? Have you done all you could? Instead of looking to leave, maybe the secret to fruitfulness is looking to make a difference where you are and to bloom where you are planted rather than seeking better soil.

Why stay?

6- Because you should leave something better than you found it.

In our case, we had started a church where there wasn’t one. But if I had walked away at certain times of opportunity to take another pastorate, I don’t think the church would have made it. That would have been irresponsible and damaging to the cause of Christ.

Why stay?

7- Because your family deserves stability and needs to know you care about their needs more than your career/reputation.  

If I turn out to be like “Noah the eighth person, the preacher of righteousness,” and my family members are my only converts, I should determine that it will be ok because I followed God’s plan for my life.

The will of God is not just a good place for us. It’s a good place for our families, too! 

Why stay?

8- Because you walk with God and sense His Spirit telling you to stay put.

This is truly the only answer you should need. What does God want? That should be enough!

Why stay?

9- Because the same God who called you is the same God who can sustain you thru difficult times. 

If God has brought you to it, He can bring you through it! Due season is often unseen until it suddenly arrives. (Galatians 6:9)

Why stay?

10- Because opportunity does not equal obligation. 

God sometimes opens doors for us to walk through into different positions or places of service. 

The devil, as the great counterfeit of God, also opens up doors for our advancement. We must try the spirits and discern the mind of God. 

Why stay?

11- Because you still have a vision for the future of the church where God has placed you.

There are times when you might feel burned out and unwilling to continue to serve the people where you are. Maybe God is moving you.

But other times your passion and drive and burden to do more for the cause of Christ where you are serving can be the catalyst that reminds you that there is still more to accomplish and that God is not calling you away. 

Why stay?

12- Because it scares you to be out of God’s will and you just aren’t sure. 

My wonderful Christian parents always said to me throughout my life, “When in doubt, don’t do it.”

Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. If you aren’t sure what God would have you to do, remain in the same place doing the same thing until a clear command to do otherwise is given. (See #1.)

Why stay?

13- Because the reason for the desired move is a small faction of opposition. (They’ll be in the next church too.)

Having some church conflicts? As long as people are sinners there will be carnal people in churches. Don’t leave because standing is hard. It is always worthwhile to stand for truth regardless of who is in error.

Why stay?

14- Because your wife is against moving for valid spiritual and scriptural reasons. 

God made you one flesh. He joined you together with her. Listen to her reasons. If she walks with God she will help and not hinder you. She is in ministry with you. Don’t discount her gut feelings, and allow her to give you feedback.

Why stay?

15- Because sometimes the reason for wanting to take another church is really just an opportunity to take the easy way out or to boost your ego. 

Sometimes it’s a possible escape from a current problem and a hope for something less stressful. 

Other times it looks like everything you’ve ever hoped for and the benefit package has piqued your interest. 

Remember that you are not in ministry for you, but for the Lord. The pastorate is a calling. We must not view it as a career.

Why stay?

16- Because the church you are currently pastoring isn’t a step on a ladder; it is just as needful to God’s economy as any other church. 

There are no small roles in God’s production. Don’t be insecure in your seeming “insignificance.” God knows what is done in both the high and lowly places... and He sees things differently than men do. “Little is much when God is in it!”

The real question is not so much, “Why stay?” But rather, “Why leave?” 

It’s not about bigger and better; it’s about burden. 
It’s not about budget or buildings; it’s about the body of Christ. 
It’s not about benefits; it’s about building lives. 

The ministry isn’t about you. It’s about Christ. It isn’t about what you want. It’s about what God wills. 

So should you stay? 

I believe you should plan to stay. Be content with such things as ye have. If God intends to move you, He will. And you will know He is stirring up your nest when that time comes.

But seek to just serve God and others and to be fruitful where God has placed you. God knows where you are and what He wants to do through you. 

Never forget: faithfulness and obedience to God is the definition of true ministerial success. 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

How to Know When It is Time to Go

 Pastoral Transitions 2

Note: In today's post we will examine the proper parameters for a pastor to use in deciding to leave his church. This primarily involves a pastor who is thinking through this on his own initiative. In another post we will deal with how a pastor ought to respond when he receives an unsolicited offer of another position.

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          I have done it twice. Along with all the other difficulties associated with it, simply deciding to do it is a herculean task. Should I stay or should I go? In the independent Baptist movement there is no one to give you an answer to your internal conundrum. Additionally, since leaving is often associated with quitting,  the man who is considering leaving his church is often afraid to discuss his considerations with anyone other than his very closest friends. This makes his circle narrow which in turn makes the wisdom available to him narrow.

          At the outset let me say that longevity in the pastorate is incredibly helpful to growing strong churches, strong ministries, and strong families. Generally speaking, the longer a pastor stays at a church the better his church, his ministry, and his family will be. Church-hopping produces weak pastors and churches just the same as it produces weak members. Growth, solid growth, requires roots. Roots require resisting the urge to transplant yourself every time the thought crosses your mind or the opportunity crosses your path.

          Having said that, it is also true that longevity in one ministry can be detrimental. It can become an idol, for one. For another, a pastor can get so comfortable and settled in a ministry that growth ceases. Everything runs well. The people like him. He likes the people. No one wants to upset the apple cart about anything. Consequently, the church and the pastor both stop growing. Additionally, God has a way of using one ministry to prepare a man for the next ministry. If God’s overarching purpose in my current pastorate is to prepare me for some other sphere of usefulness I am hindering the work of Christ by automatically refusing to consider anything else. As with all spiritual matters of the heart, balance and honesty before God must be maintained here. You can use anything I say to justify what your heart really desires. I would gently discourage you from doing so. But I stand by it, nonetheless. We are workers in the Lord’s vineyard. I do not have the right to demand that I stay in one portion of the vineyard forever. That is His call, not mine.

          At the same time, I am loathe to leave the impression that such decisions are entirely mystical. Yes, I believe there is such a thing as the will of God. Yes, I believe God does lead us into things and away from things. But, no, I do not believe that means we have to check our brain at the door and wait for some mysterious feeling or leading to either arrive or not arrive in order to know what to do. We are to love him with all of our heart, yes, but also all of our mind. Faith may be above reason, but it is not unreasonable. It is ok for you to weigh the pros and cons of a pastoral transition. It is ok for you to be practical in such matters.

          I stress this practicality for two reasons. First, most of the emphasis is usually on the other side of the consideration. Pray. Seek the Lord. Wait on Him. Read the Bible. Die to your desire to leave. God has your address; if He wants you somewhere else He will find you. Spirituality is assumed to be on the side of staying, and failing that, it is certainly on the side of waiting for some Constantine moment, some sign in the sky to indicate you ought to move. Some of this has merit and some of it does not but all of it must be held in balance. Secondly, not realizing that practical considerations are permissible helps in guiding your decisions hurts men and ministries and families. I have seen men hang on far too long, way past their sell by date because “God hasn’t told me to move, brother.” Ok, but your wife despises you, your kids hate the ministry, and the only part of your church that is not stagnant is declining. More often though, it is expressed, or better yet, entirely unexpressed but deeply felt as befuddled puzzlement. Is it ok to use practical considerations here? Does that make me ungodly? No, my brother, no. It most definitely does not. God is as able to lead us with our common sense as He is our uncommon sense.

          Understanding that then, what are some of those practical considerations? That is the question this blog post is intended to answer, or at least to get you to ask yourself. Needless to say, what follows is my opinion. I am not afraid of that in this context; I hope you are not either.

1) It is time to go when your family needs you to go.

          Your marriage is more important than your church. Sadly, entirely too many pastors reverse that in their hearts regardless of what they pay lip service to. And it shows in their homes. This principle was powerfully brought home to me a few years ago when I picked up Robertson McQuilkin’s A Promise Kept. In it, he details how the Lord led him to lay down a growing ministry in order to care for his wife. I am convinced he made the scriptural decision. The church is Christ’s bride, not yours. The ramifications that flow from that are many, but one is that in the priority list it sits beneath your marriage. If your marriage needs you to resign the ministry, or move to a different ministry than rest assured, my brother, God is leading.

          Second only to your marriage in your earthly relationships is your children. God knows how often and how deeply pastor’s children struggle. I have the honor of having been on both sides of this. My father accepted his first pastorate two months before I was born. I accepted my first pastorate three years before my eldest was born. I have been both PK and P, so to speak. It is impossible within the confines of this blog series to dwell in any depth upon the unique burdens that pastor’s children often bear. Suffice it to say, they bear them, and not always with elegance and grace either. If your child/ren are suffering (or will suffer) emotionally, spiritually, or psychologically to such an extent that the only cure is your move, then move. They rank above your church in your order of God-given responsibilities.

          Alongside of these two, running parallel with them is the elephant in the room – the pastor’s finances. Some years ago I wrote a blog series about that. You can find it in the word cloud on the right side of this blog under “salary”. To cut to the chase, the vast majority of pastors are underpaid and the familial and spiritual struggles which result from that are incalculable. As a pastor, if your church cannot afford to pay you a decent salary you should strengthen it to the position that it can. If it can afford to pay you a decent salary but will not, you ought to lead it to do so. If you have endeavored to lead it to do so, and it blatantly refuses, it is my considered opinion that you have grounds to leave. It is not abandonment. It is the application of wisdom and prudence. I am not saying you ought/should make such a decision quickly, but I am saying you have the right to make it. Especially in (or the equivalent of) a bivocational situation. Those are incredibly hard on your family over the long term.

          Alongside all of these, I would briefly mention your responsibility to your parents as they age. That is likewise a biblical responsibility. If it cannot be fulfilled in any other way, your resignation and move to a different ministry in order to undergird their declining years is entirely understandable.

2) It is time to go when your health needs you to go.

          There are a number of high-stress occupations in contemporary America. The president has one. Law enforcement officers and soldiers have one. Often times people in the medical field are routinely forced to make life and death decisions. Single parents have one. Many people do. Alongside of those, I would argue that pastors also have a high-stress occupation. Numerous studies have borne that out and I will not attempt to justify that assertion here.

          If that stress, if that pressure gets too great to bear then let it go. Resign and find a smaller church. Go somewhere where you can still be useful to the Lord’s work but the load will be lighter. Perhaps even shift from the pastorate to some other aspect of ministry. It is not ok to stop loving and serving God; it is ok to shift your burdens around when necessary.

          Stress is a generic killer. What I mean is that it manifests itself in a wide variety of physical ailments. Sometimes, however, a specific ailment requires a ministerial adjustment. If your health requires the dry air of the West then go there. Do not be ashamed to do so. Go there. Some of you who read this blog regularly will recall that one of the primary factors that drove my decision to leave my church in Chicago was exactly this. Meniere’s disease is progressive, and I was progressively becoming a prisoner in my own home. I needed somewhere to minister that had less noise, less traffic, less people, less of everything. I did not quit; I shifted my ministry to a different location.

          Before I move on, let me briefly and kindly address one other aspect. Age in pastors in generally considered to be a good thing for with it comes wisdom. But there comes a point in time at which our age produces a decline in our ability to function effectively. That is true of any vocation, the ministry not excepted. More times than I care to count I have seen a pastor hang on like grim death while his church crumbled around his ears. Resignation from the pastorate and shifting into a teaching ministry or an itinerant preaching ministry is not quitting; it is applied wisdom. Protect the future of your church by leaving before you hurt it. That takes long-range planning and delicate skill, but it can and ought to be done.

3) It is time to go when your church needs you to go.

          If I am the captain of the ship, and I hit an iceberg, once the immediate situation is resolved I ought to resign. The same thing is true of a pastor. There are a large variety of icebergs in the ministry. It is not fair to expect a pastor to be perfect, but it is fair to expect him to navigate a church safely through such things. If he cannot or has not, it is probably better for him to move along.

          So much of leadership is confidence, confidence of the people in your leadership and confidence on your part in asserting that leadership. Self-generated confidence is carnal and arrogant, but not all confidence is such. Jesus often expressed confidence in one manner or another, and it was genuine. If my ship hits an iceberg guess what the people no longer have in me? Yep. Confidence. And you cannot effectively lead without it. In plain English, if you have experienced a devastating blow to your church as a direct result of your bad management or leadership your church needs you to move.

          The next aspect of this is more nuanced but it certainly exists. If your church is plateaued and has been for a long time, perhaps it is time for you to go. Men have capabilities, capacity levels, so to speak. If you have reached your capacity your church will never grow beyond that while you are there. You, on the other hand, could go to some comparatively smaller work and build it up while another comes to yours and takes it to the next level. Nor is this only a practical consideration; it is also a spiritual one. Plateaued churches are almost always resting churches. They are content. Sometimes, just as God needs to shake the pastor up by making him uncomfortable in a new situation in order for him to grow, likewise a church needs the same thing from time to time. When the grass is green, it is easy for the church and the pastor to sit in the shade and enjoy each other’s company. But God’s best way is very rarely the easier one.

          I would offer you one other consideration under this heading before I leave it. Your church needs you to go when what comes next for them is beyond your ability to perform.

Allow me a moment of transparency here. For sixteen years, I labored in the inner-city of Chicago. That church was innumerably stronger toward the end of that time than it was when I arrived. But that created its own problem. We needed to move to a larger location. It needed to be on a main street with direct access to parking. And that was going to take millions of dollars, thousands of hours of extra work, and elevate my stress level through the roof for an extended season of ministry. I am lousy at raising money. It is just a fact. My health rules out the viability of thousands of hours of extra work and even higher rates of stress. But that church needed it. Which meant I had to go. My church needed a different pastor because what it faced next was beyond my capability.  

4) It is time to go when your heart needs you to go.

          This blog post is already too long, but I am determined to address some things so it will just have to get longer. It is time to go when your heart needs to go.

          I am highly sensitive to the existence of the deceitfulness of our heart. Many a pastor has allowed his to lie to him, and then used that lie to justify bailing on God’s people. The only one that can know the true situation is you and God. But having said that, it is undeniable to me that sometimes a man just needs to go because he needs to go.

          For example, lets take a pastor who attempts to lead his church into a major new ministry and the church rejects it. He has laid out his vision. He has justified that vision. He has explained how it is doable and why it ought to be done. And the church simply says, “No, we are not going to follow you.” At that point, his ministry to them shifts from leader to caretaker. He is simply keeping the lights on. Now that has its own worthwhile aspect, but in the larger context it is only potentially worthwhile. That pastor will almost certainly feel at least resentment toward his people if not outright bitterness. Can that be cured by his time with the Lord? Well, the latter can at least. But make no mistake, his ministry to them is already done no matter how much longer he stays. He needs to go because his own spirit demands it. Put another way round, when your people have become an aggravation, a grief, and a bother, and that goes on and on endlessly, your own heart dictates a change of scenery.

          This next sentence is impossible to explain, but almost every pastor understands it. Sometimes you are just done. Just done. D-O-N-E, done. It is not because you are backslidden. It is not because you are out of the will of God. It is not because you are running from the trials God has brought into your life. You are just done. During one of my two pastorates, at one point I ended up lying prostrate on the floor in the smallest room of the building weeping, telling God I was just done. I do not expect everyone reading this to understand that, but He did.

          If you are done, it is time to move. Staying will only tempt you to quit on God altogether.

5) It is time to go when God needs you to go

          I have already alluded to this above so I will only mention it in passing here. Sometimes, God’s design for your ministry requires a shift. Perhaps you are at ease in Zion and God needs to shake you up. Perhaps God wants to widen your usefulness by moving your ministry to a different geographical location or giving it a different emphasis. You serve at His pleasure. If He is pleased to move you, then move.


          In closing, let me say, I can certainly understand if you disagree with something or somethings that I have written here. I think most of it is rooted in biblical principle but there is certainly a lot of opinion mixed in. I told you ahead of time there would be in this series. But regardless of our level of agreement as to the specifics of this post please understand this: it is spiritually acceptable to use practical reasons as a consideration during such times. It does not violate Scriptural precept, principle, or example. Certainly, it does not allow you to ignore the more spiritual side of seeking to ascertain the will of God but it does no injustice to that spiritual side either.

          Sometimes, you just need to go. And that is ok.