“You have been traveling around this mountain long enough. Turn northward.” Deut. 2:3 (ESV)
At five different times in my ministry I left a church or organization when my role or function had been “long enough” and it was time for me to move on.
I “Moved On” for one or more of the following reasons:
1. There was no longer a role for me to play.
2. I had serious questions about the leadership with whom I worked and to whom I reported.
3. A great door of opportunity was opening elsewhere where my usefulness and contribution would be a better fit for where I found myself at that stage of life.
4. The Lord seemed to be clearly leading me (through scripture, counsel and circumstances) and my family somewhere else.
Sometimes I have left without knowing exactly what I would be doing next. At other times it was very clear that I was not just moving away from something, but toward something. I’ve tried not to make finances too big a deal, but to focus more on what God was making clear to me.
I have never made these moves without a great deal of thought, prayer and consulting with friends whom I trust and have a long-term relationship with.
Each time I have moved on, I wanted to make it clear why I was leaving so there would be no speculation, gossip or rumors. Sometimes that happened and sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes the truth was welcomed and sometimes it wasn’t.
In my coaching, I have had staff members of local churches struggle with the question of timing—if it was time for them to move on or stay put. This is generally due to some issue(s) they have in their current situation, either with the leadership (character, moral issues or leadership style), the vision (or lack thereof) or the increasing inability to live out their calling in their current context. Either the context changed or they have grown and changed and needed to be doing something else.
I have coached some younger men who aspire to a lead role (with, seemingly, the right motives) and need to move on to be able do that. Others are questioning their current position due to having ideas or a vision that is not welcomed by the current leadership to whom they report. Some have hung around for 3-5 years trying to bring about change, but to no avail.
At some point they ask me (their coach) if they should move on or stick it out.
Here are three steps in a process that I generally share with them.
1. Can you live with the situation the way it is?
I don’t ask them if they like the situation the way it is; prefer it or voted in favor of it (they generally don’t) but rather can they live with it. That is, can they do their job with joy, energy and a good attitude? When they wake up in the morning and go to work, can they still do it without constantly wishing they were someplace else or with someone else leading them? If they say no, I can’t do this any longer and I will not live with things the way they are, then I ask the second question.
2. Have you tried to pursue changing the way it is?
Have you talked to your boss, members of the Elder board, leadership team, the lead pastor or whomever it is who makes top-level decisions in the church? Believe it or not, some have been unhappy for years but it has never occurred to them to try and initiate change by having courageous conversations.
If the answer is no I haven’t tried to change anything, well, then try. Have some conversations and see where they lead. Nothing ventured nothing gained, right? If the answer is yes, I have tried numerous times over several years and nothing changes…same ol’ same ol’.
If you are sure you can’t continue (and won’t continue) to live with things the way they are and you have tried the best you can to initiate what you perceive are needed changes and nothing seems to happen, it seems to me (in my overly simplistic brain) that you only have one choice and that is:
3. Move on.
But, as you plan to move on, do it in such a way that:
a. You honor Jesus Christ in the way you conduct yourself in both speech and action.
b. You are honest, gracious and truthful but, at the same time, loving in the way you communicate your desire to move on. According to Ephesians 4:15, don’t be so truthful that you are not loving, nor so loving that you are not truthful. Not an easy path to walk at times.
c. You learn everything you can from the total experience. Consider keeping a journal of your thoughts, feelings and lessons learned as you’re preparing to leave. You can appreciate, learn & profit from both the good and the bad with your current boss? See Learning From Bad Bosses.
d. If you wind up in a leadership role somewhere else, you will have clarity, wisdom and courage to do things differently and create a healthier culture.
In the Kenny Rogers Song, “The Gambler” we find these words:
“You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away…”
As much as I would like to offer a simplistic answer to exactly when you hold ‘em, fold ‘em and walk away, it’s a matter of wanting what God wants for you more than your wanting anything else. It’s a matter of being sensitive to His timing, of praying, of seeking good counsel and of going with the courage of the convictions that the Holy Spirit gives you.