Sunday, March 18, 2012

When a pastor should change churches...

I was thinking today about some signs, if I were pastoring, that might hint I should think about changing churches.

1. You sense that God is calling you elsewhere.
There should be at least one completely positive entry on this list.  The ideal scenario is when you have had a fruitful ministry somewhere and you sense it is time for you to move on.  Maybe there is a young leader you have been grooming to step into leadership. Maybe you are ready to retire. Maybe you sense God calling you to another ministry. Wouldn't it be great if all pastoral transitions were of this sort!

Now for the other side:
2. If most of my people have lost confidence in my leadership, and there is no clear way to get it back.
Certainly a congregation can be mistaken. Certainly there's a time to stick with it through a hard time. But there's also a time to recognize that my leadership capital is spent. It may not be my problem, or it may definitely be my problem. But to be a leader means for people to follow you, and if they're not following you, you're done.

3. When your people, including your best staff and lay leaders, are jumping ship in large numbers and those that haven’t jumped yet are looking.
Sometimes a church can benefit from certain people leaving, perennial trouble makers. Sometimes a sign of a church's health is when it sends out people to plant churches and further God's mission. But some pastors also deceive themselves about how much blame they should take over the departure. When some of your best leaders are going elsewhere, it can mean you have been stifling their gifts or taking the church in the wrong direction.

Good leaders get out of the way when those under them can do something better than them, and they facilitate the exercise of the gifts of those under them. Bad leaders can't let anyone under them be better than them. Inevitably, these subordinate leaders feel like their talents are being buried in the sand, and they go elsewhere.  Meanwhile, the level of leadership in your church sinks to your level. A less gifted person can actually be a great leader if he or she enables and gets out of the way of those under her who have greater gifts in particular areas.

3. When you have lost a clear vision for your church and can't seem to get it back.
There will almost always be transition times when you and a church are trying to figure out where to go next. But if you go too long without a clear sense of direction, the church may be in trouble if you stay. Best step out of the way and let God call someone else with a vision for the church.

Of course, there are other situations.  You can have a vision out of sync with the church's vision. Sometimes you will be right, and sometimes you will be wrong. There is a time to work around dead tissue. But there also is a time when you are the dead tissue. Wisdom is knowing the difference.

4. When the church is declining or has plateaued under your leadership, and needs a fresh perspective.
A church will have ups and downs, but you don't want it to stay in stagnant or down mode for too long.  Sometimes fresh eyes and fresh enthusiasm are needed. There's no dishonor in recognizing that your time there is up.

What you don't want to happen is for the church to go into a spiral dive on a collision course with a major crisis.  You want to leave before it's too late and your name becomes permanently associated with killing a church that may once have had great health and vitality. You want to leave before it will take a messiah to rescue it.

Have I missed anything?


Keith Drury said...

Some leaders can lose the confidence of the majority of their people, but have so cut themselves off they don't know it... these are the leaders who get bushwhacked some day by their board and wonder how it happened... it happened over time but they had no back channel of knowing they were losing confience all along. These are messy exits and the church or institution often loses lots of good people in the leader's last days.

Jeff Brady said...

Sad but true: Or the pastor may do something incredibly stupid (I.e. major sin/moral failure - adultery, embezzling, etc.). There is a chance he/she could return someday, but a major reconciliation, restoration, and rebuilding process must happen for the pastor and for the church who must now heal.

Jeff Brady

JRS said...

It’s interesting that you frame this discussion as though the pastor’s behavior is the key determining factor. That’s not to diminish the importance of pastors; however in Wesleyan churches lay leaders carry significant responsibility for moving the church forward.

How do you account for lay responsibility in the areas you mentioned?

Ken Schenck said...

Yes, I framed it from the perspective of a pastor. It seems to me the principles are similar if we are talking about a church or board, even district superintendent trying to decide whether a pastor's time should be up.

For example, a board might ask questions like:

1. Do we and the members of the congregation have confidence in this pastor (nice to know this before a recall vote makes it obvious ;-)?

2. Have we been watching significant numbers of key people, even leaders go to other churches (and it might be worth a heart to heart to know if frustration with the pastor was part of it)?

3. Do we even know what the pastor's vision is for our church? Do we agree with it?

4. Is the trajectory of the church in question right now? Making us nervous? Has the pastor contributed to the decline? Do we have any confidence that the pastor can change in ways that would reverse the trend?

JRS said...

What I’m suggesting is that the board has a very significant role in providing leadership for a church. I’m wondering why we don’t evaluate the board’s role in the leadership process. It seems that we always assume that the board is functioning perfectly and if there is a problem in providing leadership to the church, then the pastor is the problem.

So could we restate your four questions and use them to consider the board’s leadership performance?

1. Do the members of the congregation and the pastor have confidence in the board?

2. Have we, as a board, been watching significant numbers of key people, even leaders go to other churches and might it be helpful to know if their frustration with us was part of it?

3. Do we as a board have a vision for our church?

4. If the trajectory of the church is making us nervous, has the board contributed to the decline? Do the congregation and the pastor have confidence that we can reverse the trend?

I’m entirely supportive of lay leaders and their significant involvement in the church. At the same time shouldn’t their leadership be evaluated at least as rigorously as the pastor’s?

Ken Schenck said...

Well said!