As an eight-year-old, I didn’t quite understand the buzz around the platform on that strange February Sunday. Instead of showing up for worship, the pastor left a letter on the pulpit. It was his way of resigning, and I would never see him at that sacred desk again.
In many churches there are two standards, one for the laypeople and one for the clergy. The people of the cloth can come and go, often averaging less than three years per stint as they continue on their steeplechase.
Laypeople, on the other hand, are expected to be sentenced for life and when they move on, they are called church hoppers and shoppers. We have to believe that the Lord sometimes moves both pastors and people on to new church families. Unfortunately, we also have to believe the devil does as well.
As either clergy or congregation, how do you know if the Lord is leading you to another church, whether across town or across the country, or if the devil just wants you out of there?
1. First, this decision is easier if you know for certain that it was God who led you to where you are! A good rule of thumb is, Don’t move on until God’s leading is as strong or stronger than the leading that brought you where you are.
2. Along the same line, the Lord usually doesn’t lead you from something as much as He leads you to something. It is sound advice not to quit a job before you have a new one, nor should you leave a church unless the Lord has specifically led you to a new one. Bill Cosby is noted as saying, Don’t burn your bridges unless you have a boat.
3. Be godly in how you handle your disagreements. In reality, many people who leave a church to go to another do so because of conflict. People who learn to pull up stakes and retreat in the heat of the battle, however, violate all types of biblical guidelines for handling conflict. The Lord never called us to burn bridges or to leave His work in the hands of the ungodly. Not settling disputes only perpetuates unhealthy personal patterns and bad corporate behavior.
4. Be fair in how you leave. There is no need, especially if your tenure has been a positive experience, for things to end poorly. Repeatedly ask throughout the process, Now is there anything that I should take care of before I leave? and then reach back with, Was there anything that was not taken care of? Doing so can help you avoid many hard feelings or opportunities for gossip.
5. Take advantage of the insight of church leaders to help you before you make your decision. In a God-honoring, biblical church, pastors, elders, and deacons are there to help guide and serve both the congregation and the leadership. It is foolish to not consider their honest input as you make your decision. Telling someone, We have decided to leave; what do you think? is much different from asking, We are thinking about leaving; what is your advice?
When we learn to settle in the place where God has led us, we discover the riches and depths that come from weathered relationships, and we find the peace and calm that comes with following the Lord’s directives instead of our own wind-tossed whims.
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