There’s no doubt about it, even though people often say things like, “They had a pastor who stayed too long,” usually, long-term pastoral leadership is good for the church. The years of ministry allow church leaders to gain the trust that is needed for important and vital ministry to be done. It is usually in the congregation’s best interest to keep their pastor happy for the long term.
And, pastors often leave before they should. If we could learn to stick it out a little longer, if we could be encouraged to take care of ourselves in times of harsh criticism, if we learned to surround ourselves with some caring and supportive people, then we could have much healthier denominations.
That being said, there are times when we should bail. I find walking away to be the most difficult thing to do as a pastor. And yet, I have had to do it. Here are a few indicators that it’s a good time to find another path.
If there is no way that you can financially survive. I don’t mean that we’re just not keeping up with the neighbors, our kids have fewer toys, our vacations are less extravagant, and our car’s ten years older. I mean when there is no way that we can meet our basic financial needs. Many of us have been caught in a shift—housing costs are much higher, our school debts are much deeper, but often the pastor’s salaries have not changed.
The sad thing about this is, we are conditioned to think that if we need more money, then we must be greedy. But sometimes, we just legitimately need more money. If you’re in that position, and you have cut every corner you can think of, your church can’t increase your salary, and you still cannot make it, then by all means, it’s okay to walk away.
If you’re health is being affected. If you find that you have stress-related ailments that are not going away, if you have a radical weight gain or loss, if you have serious depression that seems to be situational, or if you have acquired some sort of chemical dependency, then you can seek help. But, we cannot automatically rule out our environment as a factor. If you’re in a church that is constantly harsh and critical, and it’s overwhelming you and affecting your health, you can figure out some coping mechanisms, but sometimes it’s time to leave.
If your family is suffering. I have talked to a lot of pastor’s sons and daughters who have been damaged by how the church treats its pastors. Of course, there are wonderful things about being a pastor/parent, but there can also be very difficult things. If you’re congregation is putting too much stress on your spouse or kids, or if there are outside circumstances that is making things unbearable for your family, you may want to go.
I don’t know… I guess I’m trying to tell you something that I couldn’t hear. When I was having a difficult time in the pastorate, I was very eager to blame every problem on myself, but sometimes, even if you know that staying will be the best thing for the church, sometimes it’s okay to leave.
Any other indicators? What would you add?