How to Know When It’s Time to Go

How long should the average pastor stay at one church? I saw that question asked on Facebook recently, and I was surprised by the variety of answers. Some thought a pastor should move on after just a few years to keep things fresh, while others thought a pastor should stay 5-7 years at a minimum. A few more thought for a pastor really to see success they should plan on staying ten or more years.

Thom Rainer wrote an article a few years back that suggested the average length of a pastorate is increasing. He compared Lifeway studies over the years, and over the course of 20 years from 1996 to 2016, the average had almost doubled from 3.6 years to 6 years.

I have a hard time deciding one way or another. On one hand I’ve seen pastors jump ship way too early because things weren’t always going their way. Then on the other hand, I’ve seen pastors stay way too long to the church’s detriment.

Personally, I’ve been on staff at my church for over seven years now and can’t imagine going anywhere else anytime soon. However, I realize that my benefit to the church may fade before I’m ready to go. That’s the scary part, and I have to be careful that my love for the job doesn’t interfere with what’s best for the church.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of questions to know when the time is right. These questions shouldn’t take the place of God’s will, but I think they’ll give you an idea of what His will is.

  • How is the church really doing? This is a hard question to answer honestly because it requires us to take a long hard look in the mirror. If things haven’t been going well and it doesn’t look like they’re going to get any better, then it may be time for us to go.
  • Am I making excuses for poor results? “Oh, people just don’t want to listen to the truth anymore.” When we start blaming culture for the problems inside of our church, we’re making excuses. The other common excuse is to blame other churches. “The only reason they go to that church over there is because they entertain them with lights and a big show, and that’s not biblical.” Quit looking around for the issues, and start looking within.
  • Is this draining or fulfilling? Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly seasons of ministry in which you’re going to feel drained, but is the ministry also filling you back up? If it’s only draining, and never fulfilling, it’s time to go.
  • Am I excited about the future? Is there reason for hope? Are things headed in the right direction? Are you working on new plans and strategies that you believe are going to benefit the church? Or is it just the same old same old?
  • Am I just staying because I need the paycheck, retirement, or parsonage? Unfortunately, this is where many pastors find themselves in their 50s and 60s. Think through if the church couldn’t provide any of that to you, would you still want to stay? If the answer is no, then it’s time to go.

How many years have you been at your current church? How will you know when it’s time to go? Leave a comment, and let us know. Also, thanks for checking out the blog. If you enjoy what you’ve read, please subscribe and you’ll get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

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5 thoughts on “How to Know When It’s Time to Go

  1. Tom Bostic

    oh my…this is on my mind most of the day and often through the night. I’ve been at Orleans Christian Church for 23 years. We have seen some great things here. BUT…attendance is down over the last few years, its a struggle to get volunteers to want to get involved (you can chalk that up to many things, but one of the factors I believe is people aren’t buying into the vision anymore, I am not “selling it” like I used to), my leadership team (elders and deacons particularly) are complacent and slow to react to most things (again, my influence seems to be waning). People seem to love my sermons and my teaching, most of the major programs we plan go off fabulously. I have great influence in our little community (Orleans is 2100 people, one elementary school and one jr. hi/sr. hi school), I’m ask to be on every community or school-related committee. My kids have grown up in this parsonage, our oldest was 6 when we came and is now married with a baby of her own. My middle son was 3 when we came, and he is also married with two kids and is a deacon here at OCC. I’ve always believe longevity is a key to growth and stability. And this congregation has a track record of long ministries–Nelson Lee preceded me, 14 years; Forrest Wilkin, 21 years, Titus Solomon, over 10 years. And this that has been a benefit in many ways.

    But as I read your article, particularly the questions, I have to answer “yes” to every one. We aren’t particularly growing; I am making excuses OFTEN; I am beyond drained every day and dread every week to be truthful–even the parts of this job that have been my “highs” don’t stir me anymore and I start to dread them coming back around; I am a very, VERY enthusiastic person, I believe its my greatest quality! But I am faking it most of the time now; and the paycheck–ha! They pay me too well and provide me such great benefits–but it has painted me into a corner. I’m 57 and I don’t own a home. We have been in such financial straits that we are just barely coming out of it, so savings, investments and retirement are next to nothing. (I did the STUPID thing 35 years ago of opting out of Social Security, so I have no chance of retiring, I’ll just preach somewhere till the day I die.) I almost left here two years ago to be a part of the staff at a large, multiple staff congregation, but we stayed, mostly because we couldn’t afford to move. And who will hire me now? Everything from here seems to be a step down and a loss of income.

    So, I keep plodding along here. Fight the daily battle, trying to keep my head up, thankful or what God sends me, and praying if He wants something else out of me that He will vividly show me His plans.

  2. Brian

    Wow. Just Wow. This very question has been on my heart recently. I’ve been at my current church for 6.5 years. I’m beginning to wonder if someone might do a better job because things are stagnant and have been stagnant and it seems that no matter how hard I try nothing changes.

    Thanks for the wisdom.

  3. Frederick Ngwayi

    I am so happy to have read the tips on how to know when it’s time to go? i shall like to be part of your team in order to increase my knowledge about church growth.
    While hoping to hear from you, I remain yours in service

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