Endure or exit?

Some time ago, I heard a retiring pastor tell me “if you’re facing conflict, it means you’re doing ministry wrong”.

This really confused me. Conflict has been a huge part of my role in ministry, but something dawned on me… this older pastor had not changed anything major in at least ten years. Why would he be facing conflict? People were very comfortable, and those that weren’t would quietly exit the Church as promptly as they entered.
Conflict means that you may be rocking the boat of comfort, and not everyone is ready to try something new. But there are times where it seems it is impossible to affect change; not because the vision or strategy is wrong, but because the Church and/or ministry is not willing to make the necessary changes. This is what it comes down to: a Church could be excited about a vision but not keen on any sort of strategy that goes with it. In other words, the fear of the perceived sacrifice often trumps the overarching vision. And that’s a shame.

So how do you know when it’s time to exit?

1. The vocal minority holds the influence
If you lead change, you will face criticism. It’s inevitable. But this shouldn’t shake you to the point of questioning your calling or worth. It can get worrying when a vocal few have the influence with the leadership. You can try and lead these people through the change, but chances are you’re the last one to hear their grumblings. They likely won’t meet with you, and if they do it will be a diluted message.
If you are finding that the vocal minority have the influence, it may be time to exit.

2. People are more passionate about the past than the future
I accepted a role as Youth & Young Adults Pastor at a growing Church a while back. The Church’s growth was mostly non-organic; not necessarily the result of outreach, but from members from other Churches who had become disenfranchised with their old churches. Growth isn’t always linear, and unfortunately this can give the false impression that the Church’s growth is healthy.
I wish I had a dollar for each time I heard the words “that’s not who we are” and “that’s the way we’ve always done it”.
Over time, the love for the past can become more important than the vision for the future; and that’s worrying.
Culture is always changing, and the Church at least needs to meet culture halfway to ensure they aren’t shrugged off as irrelevant.
If your passion for big picture thinking, vision and strategy isn’t met with anywhere near the passion that the ‘glory days’ aren’t, then it may be time to exit.

3. You keep having to defend  changes
Any length of time in ministry will tell you that change can often be tough to implement. This in itself is not reason to ‘exit’ at all; in fact, you need to ensure that any proposed changes are accompanies by a vision or reason behind the change. That is, any change must be followed with the big ‘why’. In aligned Churches, if the purposes behind the changes are reasonable, most people will get on board; or they’ll at least give you in a go.
However, if you are finding that people aren’t even willing to listen to your reasoning or only listen to you to respond, and not understand; then it’s probably time to leave.
This is a clear indication that the members of the Church have too many ‘sacred cows’ and would prefer comfort and stability over the courageous pursuit of growth.
Carey Nieuhowf believes that a clear sign for leaving is where it becomes obvious that you have affected all the change that you can. And I agree with him.

4. Big-picture vision isn’t a priority to people
I you have been following my leadership for any amount of time, you’ll know that I’m all about the big picture; the vision. I’m of the firm belief that we need to have a vision that gives us, our leaders and those who follow our leadership the impetus to not only ‘keep going’, but passionate in what we are doing together.
If you’re the sort of leader that enjoys the status quo or safe leadership, it may be best for you to stop reading this point.
But the reality is, everything we do in leadership and strategy needs to be tied to the vision of the ministry and Church.
I’ll ask you this question… does your Church exist for Sunday? Or does your Church exist for Monday?
What I mean by this is what is the focus for your Church? Is it merely to put on a Sunday morning service where people can come and go, week-in, week-out? Or does your Church exist to send congregants out from Sunday into their communities to be people of Gospel influence?
If big-picture vision isn’t a priority to people in the Church (particularly those in senior leadership), then it may be time to exit.

5. The Church leadership don’t seem to understand the vision
As a bit of a flow one from point four, the Church leadership needs to understand the vision. At one of my previous Churches, I asked the senior leadership council what the vision of the Church was. Nobody seemed to know; they would rather spend their three hour meetings discussing the colour of the new paint for the sanctuary or the speed limit outside the Church.
While these logistical topics are important, I had never heard one mention of vision or long-term strategy. Each time I brought it up, I was shut down with the platitudinous lines given in point two.
I eventually found the Church’s vision; which was formulated in the 1990s and had not been altered since. It was half a page long and looked more like a general strategy document.
Perhaps your calling in your Church is to highlight the importance of vision, and it may well just be a blessing to you and the Church; and that’s an awesome reason to endure!
However, if you’re constantly being told that vision isn’t a priority, then it just may be time to exit.

Pastors leave their posts all too often, and frequently for reasons that could have been avoided or even compromised upon. However if your deep ministry convictions are not being met or you believe that your role as a leader is merely to ‘continue what the last guy did’, it may be time for you to leave.
I need to stress, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and I am yet to find the perfect Church.

If your Church is taking active active steps towards becoming a community that wants to have greater impact, then you’re in the right place! But if your Church is happy in being stagnant or resting on their laurels without any drive or desire to take the next step in community engagement, then it could be time to exit.

What are your closed-handed and open-handed ministry issues?

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