When to bail

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?

6 thoughts on “When to bail

  1. Carol,

    I think one of the things your post points to is the lack of sensitivity on the part of higher governing boards in intervening or more appropriately helping frame pastor/congregation partnerships in the appropriate context. It seems in mainline denominations we have assumed a coporate model that puts the pastor in an “employee” position which does not adequately reflect the Biblical understanding of spiritual giftedness and “the priesthood (ministry) of all beleivers.” I also speculate that in many local congregations that have problems in adeqautely compensating their pastors it may relate to the line-item budget. If instead of the bottomline they were to use a narrative budget this would show how the pastor is supporting and advancing the life and the work of the congregation.

    Is there something else that might indicate it is time to move on? I think that if there are clear indicators that the congregation is not willing to do the work to which it is called . . . if they are willing to continue what they have always done, while expecting different results . . . to live as a church as if we were still living in Christendom and one Sunday morning the sanctuary will be packed again with no effort or change on our part. The question of course, is how long does one hang in there.

    I read once that for true transformation to take hold it takes seven years. I am into my third year here and am only now beginning to see any level of transformation . . . it has been difficult — very difficult at times . . . many nights I left the church thinking it was time to “look,” but that still small voice urged me to stay.

    But I have strong support . . . family, friends, colleagues which I didn’t feel as strongly in my first call (a rural area) and the congregation I currently serve is in a partenership of twelve churches who are in a process of intention transformation.

    God bless,


  2. Hhmm… I wish I knew how to change the font. Maybe I’ll work on that… Sorry!

    “If they are willing to continue what they have always done, while expecting different results.”

    Wow, isn’t that so often the case?

  3. Offtopic:
    In Firefox, you can set the default font size. Open the “Tools” menu, and go to “Options.” Under “Content” there’s a “Fonts and Colors” setting. You can also hold down ctrl and scroll up or down with your middle mouse wheel to change the size of the font on the page you’re currently reading.

    I’m not sure if there’s a way to do this in Internet Explorer; I haven’t used it for a very long time.

  4. In Internet Explorer it is a two-step process. Go to Tools then Internet Options. On the General tab, near the lower right use the Font button to set a font that will display whenever the webpage doesn’t specify a specific font. Tnen use the Accessibility button to have the browser ignore preset fonts. This will display the font you want to see.

    It is the reader who does this, of course.

  5. And with a Mac you click “view” and then “make text bigger.” lol… glad to know I’m not the only one with “old” eyes. 🙂

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