How does an Associate Pastor discern when it is time to leave?

Monday’s post brought an interesting question that I get asked regularly that I thought I should address as it is fresh on my mind.  There are many reasons an associate pastor would contemplate leaving their position such as:  desiring to be a Senior Pastor, struggling with the role of the position of which he currently serves, at odds with the Senior Pastor and other Pastors, or just a struggle with the general direction of the church. 

Regardless the reason, here are some general principles I followed while in this position a few times years ago, that has also served others in similar situations.

Pray and Pursue.  If you feel the Lord leading you away from your current ministry position into something else, you need to trust that the power of God can bring that position to you in God’s timing.  Pray and ask God to provide the next place.  Pursue opportunities you think would fit you, your gifts, and the kind of position you seek.  Pray that God would keep you faithful where you currently serve and pursue to talk to other Pastors who know you and let them know what you sense the Lord is leading you to do.  Pray for contentment where you serve while pursuing to prepare for the next place.

Stay and Wait.  I recognize there are some hostile church situations that require immediate exit before God provides the next place.  However, in most cases I believe the lack of clarity for the next ministry post is the Lord’s way of saying, “Stay put and be faithful until I move you.”  If you believe a sovereign, all-powerful God placed you in your current ministry position, you need to trust that that same sovereign, all-powerful God will move you in his providential timing.  What I have found is that many Associate Pastors prematurely jump ship because they are miserable, struggling, and frankly have had it.  The only foreseeable relief appears to be to just leave.  What if God’s perfect ordained plan for you is not to bring you the relief from your ministry struggle you and your wife currently desire?

There was a time as an Associate Pastor that I started to pray and pursue where almost a year went by before the Lord revealed the next place.  Let me tell you, that was a difficult year.  Many ministry scars developed through this painful time.  No relief could be found.  Although I did not realize it at the time, staying and waiting was exactly what the Lord had in store for us.  I am convinced God waited to move us because he still had some lessons “by fire” that still needed to be learned.  The training for ministry I received through the trials of that year of waiting have proven immeasurable since.

Dear brother, are you sensing God’s call to another place?  Good. Then pray and begin to pursue those options.  But stay, wait, and be faithful where he has you.  Be faithful, not divisive.  Be faithful, not discontent.  With eyes of faith, realize every day he keeps you at that current church is a means of grace for your sanctification and development for the next place he has for you.  Restlessness and discontentment in your current ministry post, regardless how difficult, should not be the sign it is time to leave (which is a common mistake), but an indictment that your faith is weak and you are missing why a good and sovereign God still has you there.

Posted in The Pastor's Soul, Training for Ministry
7 comments on “How does an Associate Pastor discern when it is time to leave?
  1. Dan Odom says:

    Thank you Brian for your wisdom and insight here. Little did you know, but a timely word for at least one pastor who reads your blog!
    Grace to you!

  2. jonathan says:

    Such great advice for those of us in the Pray and Pause stage…

  3. Emmanuel says:

    Thanks, that’s great advice. Just one question: in the initial stage of pray and pursue, how open should you be about the fact that you think it’s time to move on? Especially as you take opportunities, to preach, ask questions to fellow ministers…
    Should you make it clear that you are thinking about moving on, or should you keep quiet about it?
    What about the people you work with? Should you inform them, or simply wait upon the Lord until the opportunity comes?
    I have had two occasions like that where I had this kind of big decisions to make in the past. I’ve prayed with my wife, and we waited. Each time, we have kept quiet about our thoughts (appart from one or two trusted people). In the end, the opportunity came, but from directions who didn’t know we were looking to move on.

    • briancroft says:

      A hard balance to find. I would be afraid to give a template answer. Each situation will be case by case. It sounds like you used wisdom in your previous decisions and that is what I would encourage for the future.

  4. That’s rich pastor! It’s always a wonderful thing to know that wisdom from above is much more impelling and encouraging. God bless

  5. What a timely word. I’m at this point right now. It’s very difficult to stay but I continue to serve in humility. What does one do when they mention to their Pastor, they feel God is calling them to Pastor, and he says it’s not for them right now? I told my Pastor this last year and that was his response. Ok, I was obedient and I continue to serve. It’s a year later and I still have the burning desire. God has even opened a door for me to teach a bible study on the other side of town that has nothing to do with our church. I want to speak with my Pastor again, but I believe I will get the same response. My Pastor and I have grown distant. The only time we talk now is when he needs me to do something at church. It’s difficult when you want to speak with your Pastor but you feel like you can’t.

  6. Jason says:

    Thanks- I am so distressed. I am an assistant pastor at a church and I expressed to my pastor that God has put the call on my families life to start a church. We are suppose to be going through a church planting format- but my pastor doesnt have the time that is required- he doesnt want to invest but then he says he does. I am in a place where I am just so disgruntled. I am praying and waiting—-thanks

2 Pings/Trackbacks for "How does an Associate Pastor discern when it is time to leave?"
  1. […] said all that, Brian Croft, over at “Practical Pastoring", has written a blog article on this very topic.  Frankly, it is a must read and I hope that it […]

  2. […] years (depending on which dominations surveyed), in recent years several voices, including 9Marks, Brian Croft, Reformation21, and plenty of others have been calling for pastors to consider the benefits of […]

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