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 in 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.