5 Signs It's Time to Move On

So you’re frustrated in your job, ministry or organization.

In my last post, I argued that many people leave their jobs for the wrong reasons. In fact, I think many people leave before their critical breakthrough.

And I strongly believe that people who don’t persevere never break through the wall that most limits their personal growth: themselves. Staying somewhere for five years or longer forces you to change the only thing left to change after a while: you.

So I believe there’s tremendous benefit both personally and organizationally in long term tenure.

And please know I write this from a place of bias. I’ve been working with the same core group in the same community for almost 18 years. I think long term tenure has real benefits.

In response to my last post, Rob asked a great question. does that mean you should never leave? Is this an argument for staying 40 years in one place to get the gold watch at the end?

Not necessarily.

Before I get to my list of five signs it’s time to move on, I know you’ll notice “God told me to move on” is not on the list. Here’s why.  I’ve heard that term misused more than I’ve heard it well used. Often I think people use God language to hide their own emotional issues.

I do believe we occasionally hear from God on these things (I believe I have). But God would never say anything that contradicts scripture. And usually God’s voice is echoed in the wisdom of at least a few people around you. I realize sometimes this isn’t true, but most often it is.

If you’re the only one who ever hears from God, maybe it isn’t God you’re hearing from.

So here’s my list of 5 signs it’s time to move on:

1. Your spouse is telling you it’s time to go. For those of us who are married, there will be seasons in which you and your spouse might disagree about whether it’s time to start a new assignment. But long term, a house divided against itself cannot stand, especially in ministry. Plus, when it comes to my life, I trust my wife’s voice even a little more than I trust my own. So, if after a season or two, if your spouse is telling you it’s time to go, it becomes unwise to ignore that.

2. Your circle of wise counsel is telling you to move on. Every person should have a circle of wise counsel around them. For every leader, it’s more than advisable, it’s essential. I have a circle of friends, mentors and colleagues I trust to speak the truth to me. They often see things I’m blind to. If they’re telling you to go, listen.

3. You have lost the confidence of the leadership. If your staff team, elder board or other leaders around you have lost confidence in you for more than a season, it’s time to go. It means your influence as a leader is gone, and without the ability to influence, you can’t lead.

4.  Your passion is gone. You can lead without passion for a season (I have had to on several occasions), but long term you can’t.  Please note: the lack of passion may have little to do with your job. More than a few people have switched jobs only to discover the lack of passion is a personal issue, not a case of being in the wrong job. You might need to stick where you are and work through the tough issues.  Or you might need to go see a counselor (I’ve done that). It helps. But if you’ve carefully examined your personal growth and issues and still don’t have passion at work, it could be a sign it’s time to move on.

5. Your vision has vaporized. The most inspiring leaders are visionaries. If you no longer have a clear and compelling vision – or your vision is greater in another area you’re currently not serving in – it’s a sign it might be time to move on. Like a lack of passion, a lack of vision might actually be a sign you need to work through some significant personal growth; a job change might make the situation worse if it’s a personal malaise you’re in. But if you’re in a generally healthy space, it might be a sign it’s time to move on.

There are other signs as well. My friend Ron Edmondson has written several excellent articles on signs that it’s time to quit.

If you’re interested, I also devoted a whole chapter of my new book, Leading Change Without Losing It, to not quitting (and supplied some strategies on how to do that). You can get a copy here.

So what do you think? How do you know when it’s time to move on?

And –I’m curious–how often do you think people leave a position when what they really need to do is stay and work through their own personal growth?


  1. Jessica on July 27, 2017 at 11:42 pm

    So..what do u do if you believe God let you know that “he’s giving me the freedom to choose?” I have an opportunity to move to TX and be able to finally get out on my own and I’m still here in WA state wondering if taking that leap would be wise or not. I have acquired student loan debt, etc and don’t have a job lined up in TX. Thing is I live in an area where it’s more economically and fiscally responsible to buy a house rather than rent an apt because rent price can be as much as $1000 for an apartment which is ridiculously astronomical. I haven’t had a door open to live with a Christian roommate until now and it’s all the way in TX. I don’t have hardly any friends here and its pointless to stay at a job if I don’t even want to live where I’m living anymore. So how does one make a decision? Risk moving and not being able to pay my bills? Or stay and be employed here with no friends, and no real community?

    • David on August 22, 2017 at 6:35 pm

      Hello Jessica, I strongly believe you do not have friend where you are now because God loves you so much,and he want you to spend more time with him. Just stay for now.

    • Matt on September 28, 2018 at 9:53 pm

      this is actually eerily similar to my story lol…no idea if you’ll see this so later on after your post. But I also moved to Texas after a lot of student loan debt; having a lot of trouble finding a church to commit to but there are a couple I’d consider committing to after checking a few out. Also hard to find friends for me as well.

    • Norma on December 28, 2019 at 11:16 pm

      What if you have lost confidence in your leader? When you sit in the second chair and do not have any trust in senior leadership, does that equal time to go? What if the senior leader has absolutely no accountability? No elders, no board, no deacons…how can staff deal with and thrive in that environment?

    • Stephanie on December 9, 2020 at 7:51 am

      Peace, friend. I believe you should wait on God’s response. I know I’ve been impatient & muddied the waters, by getting in the Lord’s way. I know it’s hard to be patient, but keep asking, seeking & knocking. I wish you well. Trust God.

  2. Tim on July 24, 2017 at 12:16 am

    I think many people in our churches leave when they should stay, also. How do you address that? Have you done a blog post on that topic – when it’s time to stay and when it’s time to go, from the pew?
    I do think it’s important to lead by example. Pastors often complain about church-hoppers, but we’re often the worst offenders.
    #3 above is the hardest to gauge…how do you know when you’ve lost the confidence of other leaders? What if they’re timid about telling you directly? How can we gauge other peoples’ genuine confidence?
    Thanks, Carey, for your insightful blogs.

  3. Karen Murano on August 20, 2016 at 11:58 am

    Bingo. Thanks Carey. I have exactly 0 reasons, in fact anything I felt was a reason to quit or move on was due to whispers of doubt or lies I believed. The enemy is crafty, using elements of truth wrapped in lies to deceive, like being tired, frustrated by feeling incomplete, or failing in some way and battling perfection. Those things are real and will happen- but they are not reasons to quit. I believe in my calling and my spouse is my greatest cheerleader. I carry vision and have passion for the people we serve. The team I lead and my peers in ministry are consistently validating my leadership and voice in their life, in all humility it always blows me away. The battles are not going to change, I have to change. I choose to stand firm and seek Him, to be Spirit led. I’m so thankful for your voice in my life. Thank you.

  4. muletrack . on June 1, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    Good article. My wife has been telling me it’s time to move on for years. Now I’m starting to believe her. And that part about “passion” being out of the work — that’s the real deal.

  5. Bob on March 14, 2015 at 9:57 am

    This is both an interesting and personal. It strikes me as less insightful than most of Cory’s writings but that is understandable as the question is one of the biggest and most important ones we all face, sooner or later. I especially agree with # 4 and 5. Interesting quote that would lead to a good theological discussion is Cory’s statement “But God would never say anything that contradicts scripture”. Really? So scripture is above God? One of the early Saints defined God as “That than which none greater can be conceived”. Scripture is not greater than God. Not being argumentative but raising a good discussion. I have served at my congregation for 42+ years by the way. I had numerous opportunities to leave and searched for God’s call each time but each call led to a renewal to remain where I was. I still feel passion and still have vision and still have influence but the congregation is getting smaller and I/We can’t stem the tide.

    • BTIV on August 9, 2019 at 7:07 am

      “But God would never say anything that contradicts scripture”. Really? So scripture is above God?

      Ans: Yes. God has bound Himself to His Word. He is covenantly obligated to perform it.

      Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over My WORD to perform it.” – Jer. 1:12 (NASB)

      “For You have magnified Your WORD above all Your name.” – Ps. 138:2

      “God is not a man, that He should lie,
      Nor a son of man, that He should repent.
      Has He said, and will He not do?
      Or has He SPOKEN, and will He not make it good?” – Num. 23:19

      “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your WORD is truth.” – Jesus in John 27:17

      The scripture is The Word of God. God, who authored the scripture, will not contradict it. The Holy Spirit will never violate God’s Word.

      “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak.” – John 16:13

      Whatever He hears… (What God says; Word of God) He will speak.
      God through the Holy Spirit will NEVER contradict the scripture…His scripture…His Word. Otherwise, He’d be a liar.

      “…that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie…” – Heb. 6:18

      Carey is right.

  6. Russell on October 30, 2014 at 8:30 am

    What if us as leaders we really don’t hear much from the other leaders like deacon or elders? It would be good to hear something from there heart without having to ask.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 30, 2014 at 3:30 pm

      Alan I appreciate the question. I think one of the things you could do is ask though. I’ve asked, and it often opens a dialogue. People don’t want to be the first to say something, so say something. Just a suggestion.

  7. Maria on September 19, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    I really feel my husband and I can use a time of restoration. We’ve started a church more than 18 years ago and now average about 60-70 but don’t seem to jump over hump. When i read the article above i saw me and my husband as having all the signs for exiting, but don’t know where to turn. Over that last couple of years I’ve thought about things like “are we doing justice to these people by staying?” I’ve mention it to my husband and he agrees that he wonders too… but his temperament is one of caution and is not known to make hasty decisions. We are in mid-life and never done anything else but pastor, he has a great gift of teaching but and would probably do well teaching Bible college course. What I wish is to take a break, we love the Lord. I (we) want to serve Him, but I and I think I can speak for my husband, lost the joy or “vision” and wish I can take a step back and come back in again. I don’t know if going to another church is a solution, it’s kinda scary to me i think cause I don’t know if we are sick needing to get well or we are feeling like this cause we are done here. I just brought the subject up again about where he saw ourselves in this church / future, we did not come to any conclusion which is almost always the case. I’m left with wishful thinking and still desiring a change, i continue to pray, i continue to work at the church but find myself somewhat guilty cause I feel we are unproductive. I love my husband, but I feel often bad for him, sometimes a little angry cause I don’t see where we are heading… I need help… we need help. Thanks for listening. Open to your suggestion. How do I best approach this?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 30, 2014 at 3:32 pm

      Maria I’m sorry I missed this comment when you left it. That’s a tough one. A couple things. Ask you husband…how will we decide this once and for all? What will tell us if its time to stay or go, and when will we decide that (pick a date)…because as you point out, staying in this state of limbo isn’t fair to anyone, including you and the church. Second, I would bring other people in on the discussion. Ask them what you think you should do (people who would be able to offer a sound opinion). Weigh their words, pray and act. Stay or go. But make a decision. Does that help?

    • Bob on March 14, 2015 at 10:01 am

      Your spirit and your insight are beautiful. Listen and share with your husband but support and love.

  8. Peter Gillert on September 17, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Hi Carey, I have been the pastor for over 6 years of a church that has never exceeded 40. Every time we seem to be getting new growth, the people stay for a year or two, but then leave. We are back down to under under 30. I think the reason people go is there is no Sunday school or youth group. We only have more senior or low socio-economic people and no young families. I am very discouraged and losing my passion to prepare for Sundays and studies that I conduct.. There are no issues, divisions and everyone seems to be happy to belong to the church family. I have resigned myself to the fact that the church will never grow beyond what it is now because this is how it has been for the past 3 years.I am in Australia. Any light please.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 18, 2014 at 6:06 am

      Peter…this is a tough one. Thanks for being so honest. It’s hard to say from my vantage point what to do, but here are a few posts that could help.



      These posts highlight issues that commonly plague small churches, and hopefully there might be some insight there. I’ve led small churches and empathize with you!

    • KommandaKev on September 22, 2014 at 5:20 pm

      Hi Peter – I’m in a simliar situation in Western Australi. Ultimately, I’ve had to re-learn what church really is. I am called to do my part within the Body of Christ for the Body of Christ – if that means I minister to one person (which I have on occasion) or 40, or anywhere in between I need to be thankful that I have been considered worthy. Now I am excited if anyone shows up.
      Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Gal 6:9)
      Continue to fight the good fight – Be Blessed

  9. Troy McGahan on September 17, 2014 at 9:17 am

    Thanks for the post. The Lord used this to confirm some things

  10. Amos on September 2, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    What about minister who found himself in a church denomination that the Head has surrounded himself with sycophants? I think it is factor to quit to soon. It might sound strange but it is true especially in Africa where you find the pattern of secular leadership implemented in the the church. Only those -I describe- the inner circle opinion are heard/respected.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 18, 2014 at 6:07 am

      Amos…that’s a tough one as well. If you can find or create a healthier culture that would be amazing!

  11. Steve Reynolds on August 17, 2014 at 8:06 am

    I think that another factor is that while many quit too soon, it is possible for a leader to stay too long and it may be time for the ministry and the leader to move on in a new direction, this is especially true after a long tenure and the leader is sensing a need to undertake a new vision. Pastors and churches can get way too comfortable with each other. I’ve seen too many cases where the pastor was just hanging on until retirement and the church stagnated. While each situation is different, the best time to leave might be when the church is on an upswing before the status quo sets in. A year ago I left a ministry after 19 years to start a new church consulting ministry. It was a move that I felt the church needed and that I needed. Increasingly I sensed that a change for both of us would be beneficial. While it was painful to say goodbye, we were able to celebrate our years together and give thanks to God for they years we had.

  12. […] I’m not saying that at all. You might need to leave. I wrote this post outlining 5 signs it’s time to move on. […]

  13. Chuck on January 13, 2014 at 11:31 am

    Carey–could you perhaps elaborate or clarify what you personally see is the difference between 4 and 5? I guess it boils down to the difference between passion and vision, in YOUR context. Care to comment? Thanks.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 13, 2014 at 12:34 pm

      Passion I think is your overall enthusiasm for a mission or vision. You understand the need for the mission but can’t get behind it.

      #5 is about no longer having a vision. Leaders sometimes get to the place where they can no longer see a road ahead. They might have passion for something else but can’t lead this organization any further.

      Does that help?

  14. Cash Hunter on March 5, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    Well said, and I agree with all 5 reasons, but I do have a question, what if you are an Associate Pastor and you have lost confidence in the new Senior Minister the Church hired, or you have lost confidence in the Eldership, Deacon board. You sit down and discuss and you believe nothing is changing for the better and the leaders around you have lost their passion and vision, is it time to move on or do you stay and fight?

    • cnieuwhof on March 9, 2013 at 11:43 am

      Great question. I think if there is a long standing issue with top leadership and you are not able to change the trajectory, it gets hard to stay. Other thoughts?

  15. Daniel Bustamante on February 28, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Sarah, not sure the following article helps somehow in your career change decision http://lifehacker.com/5986162/why-quality-work-isnt-enough-to-get-ahead?popular=true&post=57697633 …I found the 25 comments about it pretty interesting

  16. Sarah Covey on January 20, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Carey, I am really struggling with whether to make a career change or not and this post caught my attention. I have this strong desire to move into full time women’s ministry (speaking, writing, teaching, consulting and the like). I am really inspired by women like Jen Hatmaker, Jennie Allen and Ann Voskamp, and I often think, “I could do what they are doing!” I’m hesitant to make a change when I have a good job that uses my skills and provides an excellent income for my family. I truly believe that I am having an impact on the kids in my classroom and most days I feel like I am “at home” there. In the back of my mind, though, there is this nagging passion and restlessness that has no outlet. I’m going to share your post with Jason to help us in the next phase of this ongoing conversation. I really appreciate your wise counsel.

    • cnieuwhof on March 1, 2013 at 10:39 am

      Sarah…I have no idea how I missed this comment. So sorry. Daniel, thanks for the link. Also, Sarah, Jon Acuff has some great thoughts about how to launch a dream job without quitting your day job in his book “Quitter”. Might help!

  17. Chad Zueck on January 9, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    This is a very good list,and I greatly appreciate that “God told me to” is not on the list. While true, it is confirmed through the events that were on the list. I, also, agree that the people leave before they have learned the very lessons that will become neccesary at the next assignment.

    It is easy to interpret everything through the filter of our desire to leave and boycott His will in the process. To God be the Glory that he still uses us anyway. Good article. Thanks.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 9, 2013 at 3:57 pm

      Thanks Chad. Great phrase…Boycott his will in the process. Very well said.

  18. Frank on January 9, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    Carey, I have a colleague in ministry who is struggling to continue serving on staff in a church where the senior pastor seems to be on his way out, but on a prolonged timeline (he’s indicated another 2 years, and it’s already been 1). There is a growing sense of a loss of confidence in the senior pastor, and the man’s loss of vision and passion are all noticeable. The situation is becoming tense, talking doesn’t seem to bring clarity, and the long timeline makes it hard to know if it would be best for my friend to leave now rather than try to stick it out, or wade through the next couple years. Any thoughts?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 9, 2013 at 3:57 pm

      Frank…that’s a tough one for sure. A two year exit is a long one. I think one question would be whether the vision or direction is clear for the future. If it’s an inspiring time ahead, a year isn’t that long. If there’s a lack of clarity or direction, that would make me think again.

  19. Rob on January 9, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Thank you Carey for spending some time on this question. Your wisdom has always been greatly appreciated.
    It is something I have been wrestling with, partially because I don’t want to just be lumped into the millennial generalizations as someone who gives up too early. I think for the most part I strive to persevere difficult situations and see how I can grow from them. While I know some people may find it very easy to just go to the greener grass on the other side, I don’t. I actually feel a great sense of loss for myself and others, and I grieve relationships and hopes that were once had.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 9, 2013 at 3:55 pm

      Rob…I think the struggle you describe shows you’re not one of the people who naturally jumps too early. Good work.

  20. Marilyn Muller on January 9, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Carey, this is a great article and a necessary discussion… I would have to say that churches are some of the most challenged organizations when it comes to transitioning their staff. Too often leadership in churches pull the rug out from their staff members that are struggling with losing the vision, passion, etc. instead of walking alongside of them and creating a great transition for everyone. “God” and “protecting the church” can be default buttons for badly handled transitions. I have met many former pastors, and church staff that weren’t given any opportunity for assessment and guidance. At the same time, when these situations are not handled properly the hurting staff member can “splatter” their pain which accelerates the situation. Open, honest and loving dialogue in a safe environment is the only way to create “wins” for everyone…

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 9, 2013 at 9:56 am

      Marilyn…great point. “Wins” for everyone are key. And churches do tend to handle process poorly in many cases. It’s a constant growth area for me. If you can get the process right, the outcomes tend to take care of themselves.

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