The relationship between pastor and church is profoundly important and often transformational for both. The role in relation to any one church however, is never permanent. Discerning whether to stay or leave revolves around spiritual reflection on several key questions. Ideally these should be part of every pastor’s annual reflection.
- Do I discern any changes or unsettledness in my sense of call to lead this group of people at this time? What are these changes? What is my reflection on why this is occurring?
- What are my personal, ministry and leadership gifts, skills and philosophy? In what direction are these maturing? What are the changes in ministry needs in this church and its mission in this community? Is there a convergence or a divergence of pastor – parish fit?
- Another way to ask this question is: Do I have still have something to offer these people and the mission of God in this community? Can I present an invitation to this church to grow which resonates with them? Does this church still present an invitation for me to grow in leadership that resonates with me? Does the church have something to offer me in terms of challenge and growth?
- Are there changes occurring in the church (aging, size, restructuring, shift in spirituality, shift in systemic health, changes in lay governance, shift of vision) or within me (age, family needs, spirituality, personal growth, professional development) which have shifted the nature of my pastoral leadership.
- Is this more than a difficult challenge that God is using to form me as a person and shape to my leadership? Have I reflected on this with a Spiritual Director or supervisor? Is this more than stress or fatigue? Have I looked at self care strategies? Do I have a mentor? Is this more than conflict? Have I sought assistance from a consultant or mediator?
- Is my leadership here actually complete? Do I have a sense of completing a task that God had for me in this place among these people? Was my ministry here for a season?
- Is there a defined blockage which prevents my leadership and ministry from being effective? Is there anything before God that I can do to loosen this? Is there a closed or dysfunctional system that is actually beyond me, even as pastor, to adequately address?
- Have things reached a point where the impact on my physical, emotional or spiritual health, my family relationships or their well-being as persons is so significant that I need to disconnect from these sources of stress?
Discerning whether to go or stay is always best done with a small trusted confidential community of others to provide wise counsel and with whom to reflect. These 4 or 5 people should include some from inside and some from outside the congregation; ideally a mentor or supervisor is part of this group, the pastor’s wife or husband is included, maybe a pastoral peer from a retreat or peer support network and also maybe two trusted, confidential, wise members of congregation? Some of the above questions can be placed before the group for prayerful reflection.
If there is agreement over time within this group, there can be either be renewed commitment or a sense that God is in this process of unsettledness confirming work in one place is complete and there is a new direction for the future. The task then is to leave well.