How do you know when it is time to leave a church as a support staff member?

 Though a common question, it is a difficult one to answer in most cases.  I have played an associate role at several different churches over the years, but each one brought its own unique challenges in discerning when it was time to leave.   I was recently emailed this question.  The common context of a question like this almost always involves disagreements with the pastor, with the general direction of the church, or even with what and how God’s Word is handled regularly.  I hope my attempt to answer this dear brother’s question will serve you in some way if you find yourself struggling to know when to stay and when to go.  My reply was this:

Dear ___________,
Thanks for writing and your thoughtfulness on this issue.  Sorry for my delayed response. 
Let me first encourage you and affirm something you have implied with your different teaching and pastoral roles at your church.  Despite being in a difficult church, you can still be very fruitful in gospel ministry in that place.  Teaching God’s Word in Bible study, discipling, sharing the gospel, and serving others in a difficult church was always fruitful ministry and excellent preparation to eventually leave and go pastor my own church. 
There is no special formula to know when to stay and when to leave.  I will say, I committed not to leave until the Lord opened a door to go to the next place.  One exception (of many) to this rule would be a false gospel being preached at your church.  Nevertheless, I would still encourage you with this general rule to stay put until led otherwise.  I think it is better to stay a little to long than leave too soon.
Also remember, the grass is rarely greener on the other side.  Wherever you go next, it will possibly have the same, if not more problems than you are experiencing now.  Make sure you and your wife don’t have that expectation that ministry will ever be easy or even easier somewhere else (this is easy to do).  One thing I can say for sure, you are exactly where God in His sovereign grace and providence wants you now to care for His people, be faithful to God’s Word, and display His gospel and His glory. 
I didn’t know when exactly to leave my last position until a church called me to pastor.  However, I did know that each of the pastors throughout the years I served with were not who I could serve with in a long-term sense.  There were just too many important differences.  I would begin to pray and ask the Lord to show you where you are to serve Him long-term if where you currently are, is not it.  Then, stay faithful and patient until that time is made clear to you.  May the Lord give you much grace and discernment as you seek his will for your ministry.
Remember, the Lord will use you and your faithfulness in the most difficult of circumstances.  Stay faithful.  Keep finding your joy and contentment in Christ alone.  The Lord will make it clear to you when it is time to make a change.  One more thought.  Some of the best advice I have ever received is, “the best time to leave a church is when things are good and encouraging, not when times are difficult and discouraging.”  A good general rule to consider. 
Any additional thoughts from others?
Posted in Oversight of Souls, Training for Ministry
10 comments on “How do you know when it is time to leave a church as a support staff member?
  1. Nice post, Brian. I offered my thoughts at my blog after I read yours.

  2. Hayden says:

    Good thoughts Brian. The last comment is the kicker for me! I left a great Associate Pastor ministry to come to the church where I am currently the only Pastor. The last line was key for me in that transition.

    “It is better to go to be called to another ministry than it is to run from the current one that you are in.” is how it was phrased to me.

    I would encourage the person considering leaving to make sure that he is cultivating a relationship with the ‘lead’ Pastor and not running from this opportunity. I still have one of the best relationships that I have with the man that I used to be an Associate Pastor to! What a blessing he is to me. I call him from time to time on how to work through situations at the church.

  3. Drew says:

    Great post Brian! This can be an especially difficult issue for younger pastors, because of our propensity to pride. Along those lines, I think the only other thing I would add is the value of humility in the role of an associate pastor. It may be that you wouldn’t do things exactly the way you’re senior pastor is doing them, but as an associate that’s not really your role right now. I’ve served as an associate pastor at two other churches and have had wonderful experiences at both because I always made it my goal to lift up and serve the Senior Pastor in whatever way I could, whether or not I necessarily agreed with him (of course with the exception of any gospel differences). Now that I’m serving as a Senior Pastor, I can really see the value of having an Associate Pastor (like the one I currently have) who is humble and simply wants to serve.

  4. Michael says:

    Great thoughts! I am battling through this right now and your comments have been helpful. I am faithfully serving where I am right now until God opens a door.

  5. Very good wisdom here, when I was facing these situations, great wisdom was given to me in the following pieces of advice;

    “If you cannot wave the flag 100% go wave it some where else.”

    translation: If your discontent is going to cause division for the rest of the flock or if your ambition needs to be rescued, it maybe better to leave so that you are not the instrument of divisiveness. There are lives at stake.

    “Leave well.”

    translation: There should be no unresolved conflicts, as a matter of fact folks should embrace this as new era in your ministry versus a cover up or running away, so that relationships are retained.

  6. Mark Bass says:

    I’ve heard it said that the 4 goals of a pastor should be

    Preach and Pray, Love and Stay

    I’ve encouraged several pastors (myself included) during down times with this.

    If anybody knows the source of this little rhyme, please tell.

  7. Vega says:

    Thank you for sharing, Brian – your response is godly and measured, and relevant to both pastors and congregation. You have touched on it, but I would like to emphasize that, no matter how relatively “unknown” a person is in the congregation, someone will be inevitably affected by their departure, especially if it’s due to disagreements or contentions. So a question to ask oneself is: What kind of witness am I (and my behaviour/words/attitudes) testifying to others when I decide to leave or stay?

    You also said: “Wherever you go next, it will possibly have the same, if not more problems than you are experiencing now.” Agreed: I would even say that one would have to prayerfully examine him/herself to see if there is anything within him that is causing the negatives in the first place. Because if the issue is in me, it probably won’t magically disappear anytime, no matter how many churches I attend. However, I think these contentions are wonderful opportunities where I can submit to God’s guidance and let the Holy Spirit reveal the roots of these issues and heal me of past hurts — and that’s what happened to me.

    I’m definitely speaking from a layperson/congregation’s perspective, and when the departure from church is on a negative note. But I experienced something like this earlier this year, and had to really examine myself, my leaders and the person who (unwittingly) wronged me, and ask the Holy Spirit for his guidance and healing. I am thankful that I grew through that situation and stayed put in this church — leaving would have done me more damage than good, to say nothing of the impact on other people! And I had a chance to counsel another person through their own contentions with their church leaders.

    Thank you for your blog! New Year’s Greetings! from a lurking blog reader =)

  8. Drewe says:

    Thanks for the insight Brian.

    I live on the other side of the spectrum! I know the time is coming very soon that I am to serve somewhere – I just don’t know where. I’ve put out some feelers, but I know God will provide the place, the time and the opportunity.

    And yet my situation (apart from there being no where I am to leave) should be responded to the same – wait and pray, God will open the door. And leaving too early (taking the wrong option!) will be just as bad as doing nothing, as I may become less productive! So I continue to do the little things, knowing God has something else (not necessarily bigger, just different), coming up!


  9. Enzo says:

    Great words, Brian
    Thanks for the article and the perfect insight to this growing problem.

    I have served in a church for over 15 years and in the music ministry for 12 of those years. The church went through severe trauma about 7 years ago, with more than half of the congregation leaving. My son was involved tragically with this, and was seduced by my Pastor’s wife. He was 22, she 40. No one knew about it. I was a single parent and my son had been very close to The Pastor’s family and looked to him as his Father for many years. When he was 18, there was a controversy between them and my son and he were seperated as friends, but he still came to church, just did not associate with him as before. Somewhere along that way, Pastor and his wife began a secret life involving sexual escapades. When Pastor confessed this and repented to make things right, his wife refused to leave the life and return to a life of righteousness. It was during this time that my son was seeking to make his relationship with Pastor right. In so doing, Pastor’s wife seduced my son, telling him the horrors of her life and their escapades. The two of them were caught in their affair and the whole church then became aware of all of the happenings. There was a great falling away of many – though we were a small church. Those of us in leadership, sought the Lord and were given direction to stay for the sake of the ministry -God did not shut the doors, but he did clean house. My relationship with Pastor has suffered, of course, though he knows I had no knowledge of my son’s sin. As you can imagine, there was a lot of pressure, urging, begging and condemning coming to those of us that stayed from many people and especially me from my family — my entire family. I can’t tell you how hard it was, but the Word from God was very clear to stay.
    The ministry is a front-lines ministry, and the Word spoken there is direct and does not shy away from the truth. Throughout the following seven years, I have suffered great persecution there as a servant, and many times I have put it before the Lord the matter of staying or going. EACH time, the Lord has been very quick to let me know this is where is chooses for me to serve.
    I have had opportunities to serve in another place, where I am not in such a constant battle and I have a wonderful experience with the Lord; however, it is another denomonation and I am not being called to convert.
    There is obviuosly a lot more to this story, as my relationship with my son is affected by my continuing to serve there, and my best friend wants me to leave. When I tell you that I have not been released from there by God, I am saying this: I have an opportunity to go elsewhere and serve, but it is not a denomination that I embrace – it is Catholic and I am protestant – I am well respected there and it is far more peaceful then my church, but the Word is not given in the powerful manner that it is in my church. There are music opportunities there that appeal to my flesh, but I am not about that with my gift. At my church, as hard as it is, we have been believing for a Revival to break out in our city–this has been the reason that we have been in existence –not to build some big church, but to seek the face of God and ask for him to use us as a place where he might come to our city with his Revival, Healing and mercy –we have long believed this – no wonder the battle is huge.
    Leaving would be easy for me, but I know that every place has its battles – but more than anything, I know that I have not been released and it has not been made clear to me to leave. The hardest part is that I have no real fellowship with my church body, not like the family we had before the events. There again, this is not why I serve there. God has been good to me and placed others in my life for His fellowship.

    Sorry for the long post, but I thought this testimony might help someone.
    I am waiting to hear from the Lord and while I wait, I intend to serve Him in whatever capacity he calls me – knowing full well that I cannot do it without him. It is very Hard, but I have seen the destruction that can come from not being in His will, and I will stay until HE says go and I do pray that I will always know the difference between His voice and my own. And all along my Faith and Trust in HIm and Him only has increased –He is Good to Bless me, evenso.

    Thanks for listening…..

3 Pings/Trackbacks for "How do you know when it is time to leave a church as a support staff member?"
  1. […] tags: Brian Croft, pastoral ministry, Staff Member by Adam B. Embry This question was posed at Brian Croft’s blog. To summarize Brian’s conclusions: 1) Don’t leave unless you have another position […]

  2. […] a staff member, how do you know when to leave a church … This question was posed at Brian Croft’s blog. To summarize Brian’s conclusions: 1) Don’t leave unless you have another position lined up; 2) […]

  3. […] a staff member, how do you know when to leave a church? This question was posed at Brian Croft’s blog. To summarize Brian’s conclusions: 1) Don’t leave unless you have another position lined up; 2) […]

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