SO YOU WANT TO LEAVE YOUR CHURCH...
People leaving the church or church hopping is at an alarming rate these days. Whether it's the color of the carpet, the preacher isn't deep enough, or music is better over there, it can be frustrating or even hurtful to the staff and pastors serving at these churches. That being said, what else do we expect from our congregants when the example of church hopping comes straight from the staff and pastors serving at these churches? The average tenure of a senior pastor is around 8 years. The average tenure of a worship pastor is 2 years. Youth pastors make it around 18 months. The example being set is that going from one church to the next is no big deal and can/should be expected. Grab me a Michelob while I let this sink in.
Now I'm no expert when it comes to what it takes to stay put for longer than two years, but I have learned a few things from being at our church for over 8. Nothing to write home about, but I'm beyond grateful and even proud of the way my family and I have navigated probably the hardest eight years of our lives. Why has it been the hardest eight years of ministry? Without trying to gain any sympathy from you, here's a list.
- The guy I came to work with, and for told me he was leaving, three months into my wife and I moving across the country(still great friends, although I like to bring this up to him when we chat.)
- Was told I'd never lead worship again at our church and that the guy who hired me was the only one who wanted me in that position.
- Six worship leaders.
- Eight different bosses.
- Three lead pastors.
- Two dogs.
- Massive layoffs.
- Multiple friends leaving our church, both staff, and non-staff
- Something pretty damn messy that threw our church into a downward spiral for a few years.
- The list goes on.
With that out of the way, I have to say that I spent a couple of years in the dark, and so did the people around me. Some of my closest friends refer to that season as "Paul's dark era." I'm not proud of it and still feel some guilt and shame(that's for another post and after another Michelob). But now that I'm out of it, looking back I can see how God has been faithful to me, my family, my friends and this little part of His Church in Gilbert. I can see the lessons of humility I needed to learn(and continue to learn), and I can see how He has and continues to heal my community.
So why am I writing this today? What's the point of this post? Let's get to it, and for the record, this list is going to sound "churchy"... I don't care or mind, I hope you don't either.
5 things to consider when you want to leave.
1. Pray - My wife and I have made every big decision based on prayer. We should make every little decision that way as well, but hey, "I'm a priest, not a saint." During this season, when my wife wanted to stay, I wanted to leave. When I wanted to stay, my wife wanted to leave. We depended solely on God getting us on the same page through prayer and decided not to second guess that. Seek out God in conversation and include others. When we do this, we hold ourselves accountable for God's will in our lives, not our own.
2. Make it your home - Plant roots, make the church and community your home. When you do this and do it well, leaving is so much harder. Now, this can sometimes work against you if you let this lead your decision, but if this is a God-centered community, these people will encourage you to follow wherever God leads you and will not get in the way, but help lead the way. I have not always been great at this and is something that God is healing in me, but I know the importance of this. My family and I would not be where we are today, emotionally and spiritually, without our community.
3. Commit - My dear friends Ben and Noelle(I'm sure you'll hear a lot about them in these posts) told me once that I should pick a time frame when I told them I was getting out of dodge. Not only should I choose a time frame, but I should commit to seeking God out and bringing my very best every day during that period of time. This is one of the most significant pieces of advice I've ever gotten. If I had decided in the "now," we would be in a much different place and probably a different zip code. But because we committed to giving God time to work on our hearts, we are in a different place, same zip.
4. Close the gaps - The people who are making it hard to stay, and we all know there are those people, close the gap between you. Speak with them. Reconcile. Move towards the awkward, weirdness, and tension. Healing starts when you believe God can do the miraculous in the relationships around you.
5. Prophets - You need these people in your life. These are the people who care so deeply about you that they would risk their relationship to speak truth into your life. My eyes well up even now thinking about these people in my life in the last 8+ years. My life is forever changed because of God's use of these brothers and sisters, and I'm eternally grateful for them in my life.
Listen, I know that there are times where leaving is exactly the right decision. I’m hoping that if that’s the case, these things I’ve listed will help confirm that. If you’ve made it this far and you’re in the middle of deciding to leave or stay, please know you have someone around who’s not only willing to listen, but wants to. And if you find yourself in a place where you don’t, I’m only an email away, so don’t hesitate to reach out.
Grace and Peace