Leadership Reading List: When to Leave

Earlier this week I had a conversation with a friend of mine who works to serve the church in similar ways as I.  As we spoke, we came to the mutual realization that the majority of our conversations are about one of four things:

  • “What you are doing is really cool!”
  • “You really need to connect with my friend ____________.”
  • “You really should think about leaving your current church.”
  • “You may want to consider leaving ministry for a season to heal your wounds.”

Two out of those four conversations can be a real bummer, I will let you figure out which ones they are.

As pastors, we have an incredibly difficult time leaving a church.  Having served three churches, and left all three of them, I assure you that it never gets easy… even when you are leaving at the right time.  Having been through an amazingly positive leave, a hard leave, and a medium leave, there were multiple tears shed at each one, and each of them took a little while to fully process.

While the physical act of leaving is difficult, and often times painful, I don’t believe that this is the reason that we have such a difficult time with leaving… I think it is because we just don’t know how to discuss leaving.  Enter Wade Hodges.

Wade Hodges new book, When To Leave: How To Know It’s Time To Move On (Before You Stay Way Too Long), is probably one of the most quietly significant books that I have read in quite some time.  This book is going to go into my rotation of books that I need to give to people.  This short book (I read it in one sitting) is an excellent framework from which to start wrestling through whether it is time for you to move on or not.  Reading the book with an open mind will give you a series of questions that every pastor should be asking himself (and those he trusts) on a regular basis… and probably should read before starting at a new church.

  • Leaving early is bad, staying too long is better, but staying way too long is the worst.  While knowing when the perfect moment to leave is nearly impossible, the next best thing is staying too long.  A college professor of mine told us “you will know when it is time to leave two years before anyone else, and about five years before everyone knows.”  While I don’t think it is that simple, when the time comes that an entire church knows you need to leave, a significant amount of damage has been done… don’t be that guy.
  • The church will survive without you.  Every now and then I have a conversation with a pastor who tells me “I just can’t leave right now… the church won’t survive without me.”  There are two possibilities that those who believe this need to consider, according to Hodges, and neither of them are going to make you smile.  If you believe the church is dependent on you for survival, you are either right, and have led in a way where you have replaced Jesus in importance to the church, or you are wrong and have a significant pride issue.  Either way… don’t be that guy.
  • For everything there is a season.  Sometimes we, as pastors, forget that Ecclesiastes 3 applies to us as well.  Every church goes through seasons, and has times where it needs a specific type of leadership.  Not everyone is equipped the same way, and not everyone is able to lead a church through a specific season.  We need to be honest enough with ourselves to know whether we are able to lead our church through the season it needs to go through, or if we are holding it back from going where Jesus is calling it to.  In these situations, staying too long may prevent a congregation from becoming what Jesus is calling them to be… don’t be that guy.

 When do YOU know it is time to leave YOUR church?

Interested in checking out Wade’s book?  Leave a comment AND share this post on twitter or Facebook before Saturday, January 28th at noon, eastern.  I will give two commenters their very own copy of this fantastic ebook.


About the Author: Matt Steen

I love Jesus, Theresa (my wife), the Redskins & Capitals, and am currently living in Waco, Texas where I am studying the finer points of BBQ (while working on my MDiv and MBA at Baylor University). When not studying, I serve church leaders through MinistryBriefing.com and am the Director of Connections for Harris Creek Baptist Church's Downtown Campus.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/473CF6W2THHKHT7FEK6XMYAHUE Joe

    Rick Warren impressed me when he wrote about unpacking his bags and making a commitment to stay.  Working out problems seems to be more difficult for some.  He started the congregation and surrounded himself with like minded people and has had remarkable longevity and success.  Big adjustments along the way and willingness to compromise without compromising principles.

    • http://www.churchthought.com Matt Steen

      I think that there is a very important difference between leaving before you have been at a church way too long and leaving at the first sign of conflict.  I think Wade does a good job of working through that… send me your email address and I will give you a copy so that you can tell me what you think.

  • Pingback: What They’re Saying About When To Leave — wadehodges.com()