When Is It Time To Leave? By Dr. Jim Efaw “Why did you leave?” “How did you know it was the right time to change churches?” I have been asked those questions countless times since I left a healthy, thriving pastorate after 24 years in West Virginia and accepted a call to pastor a church in faraway Denver, Colorado. After almost 13 years in this new ministry, I am convinced that God was in the move, even though it meant leaving the security, wonderful friends, a loyal and talented staff, a solid Christian school, and very deep roots. In discerning the Lord’s will concerning this move, I had to ponder a question of even broader interest to all of us in Christians ministries: When is it time to leave? After going through this painful process, I have some suggestions that might be helpful to others grappling with this question. I am a strong proponent of longevity in the pastorate. Far too many men leave their church right before what could be their most fruitful years. A number of studies have indicated that the pastor’s most effective years start after his seventh year in a church. It takes that long to gain the confidence and loyalty of a congregation. A pastor should not run at the first sign of difficulty and opposition; problems are in every church. So, when may it be time? It may be time to leave when a restlessness of spirit persists. This is not to be confused with wanderlust or the desire for greener pastures. It is a growing awareness confirmed by times with the Lord and by specific direction from the Word of God. It may be time to leave when complacency and self-satisfaction set in. After and inward evaluation to see if the problem was my own spiritual failure, I realized that I was becoming too accustomed to the comfort and security afforded by this well-established ministry. The feeling of complacency was alarming. I did not want to settle down to a ministry with no anticipation, no focus, and no real drive. It was easy to be lulled to sleep in the security and comfort of routine when the Lord’s work becomes a “job” and not a calling. I did not want to lose the sharpness of the cutting edge so vital in serving the Lord. It may be time to leave when complacency and self-satisfaction settle over the congregation. Many congregations are happy to settle into a maintenance mode instead of a missions mode, to a settler mentality instead of a pioneer mentality. As long as the preacher preaches and performs weddings and funerals and as long as a few people are saved from time to time, they are content. When God’s man can no longer challenge his people to “arise and build,” when he cam no longer motivate them spiritually to higher levels of levels of service and godliness, it may be time to consider a change. It may be time to leave when the challenge is gone. Most pastors revel in the spiritual challenges of the ministry – building buildings, starting Christian schools, discipling new Christians, seeing lives change through the preaching of the cross, and sending young people into full-time Christian work. I had labored for more than two decades to accomplish the tasks that were before me and felt that the ministry was where I wanted it to be. At that juncture, the challenges diminish for many men, and they begin looking for situations that beckon with new and different challenges. It may be time to leave when the ministry in a place is completed. God gifts men in different ways (I Corinthians 12). Often, one pastor takes a church as far as he can take it with his gifts, and another man comes in with different gifts to be used of God to take the church to a new level. As Paul wrote in I Corinthians 3:6, “I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” It may be time to leave when there is a place to go. I do not believe God calls a man from a church as much as He calls a man to a church. I feel God’s direction and timing are crucial. Sometimes a pastor will prospect by putting out the word that he is available and would consider leaving his place of ministry. Almost immediately he will receive a number of contacts from churches and pulpit committees. He may even have a large number of places from which to choose. I take exception to this procedure. When a man feels it is time to leave, he needs to put his situation in the Lord’s hands and trust Him to direct to His place and in His time. A man should leave when he has a place to go, but that place should be God’s place, not one that opened up because of human manipulation. It may be time to leave when priorities are in order. First, a pastor should be certain he is walking in daily fellowship with the Lord. Decisions made while one is out of fellowship with God can be disastrous. Second, he should be certain his relationship with his wife and children is open, clear, and honest. When a pastor moves, he usually does not go alone. His family is uprooted. Their feelings are important, and their input is vital to a responsible decision. I have seen pastors move at critical times in the development of the children. The result has been bitterness towards the parents and toward the ministry. I receive a number of opportunities to candidate when our children were in the eleventh and twelfth grades. They had been in our Christian school for all their school years. I refused to consider moving at that point, feeling that it was of the Lord to make my family’s welfare my priority. God expects us to take our families and their feeling into consideration as we discern His will. Ultimately, it is time to leave when God directs and gives a settled peace after you have prayed and searched the Scriptures and taken all of the above factors into account. Sometimes, even for the pastor, God’s will is difficult to discern. I prefer to think of God’s will as a spiritual condition rather than a specific geographic location. If I am committed to obeying the Word of God, he will not allow me to make a mistake. Ruth found the field of Boaz (a specific place) because she was committed to obeying God (her spiritual condition). After preaching my final sermon in West Virginia and spending several emotional hours at a farewell dinner and program, I knew I had made the right decision. The settled peace I felt following a traumatic day of good-byes and the eager anticipation of a new ministry awaiting reaffirmed all I had learned in finding out that this was indeed the time to leave. Dr. Jim Efaw ministers at Beth Eden Baptist Church in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.