7 Signs It’s Time to Leave

So you’ve thought about leaving, haven’t you?

Thinking of leaving your current job is a fairly normal phenomenon. And yet in ministry, changing churches seems to happen faster than in many other occupations.

While statistics vary, most pastors stay 3 to 7 years in one place before moving on. In my view, that’s barely enough time to effect any change. And I doubt it’s long enough to bring about transformation.

What’s the difference between change and transformation? Simple. Transformed people never want to go back to the way it was.

My personal theory is that it takes 3-5 years to change a church. It takes at least 7 years to transform it.

For that reason alone, I have a bias toward staying in the same church for a long time. I’ve served in the same community with the same group of people for 21 years.

Should everyone stay that long?

Not necessarily. I’ve also seen leaders stay for years past their effectiveness in leadership. That’s a disaster for everyone.

So how do you know when you should stay in your current position in ministry, and when should you go?

My friends Kenny Conley and Sam Luce are also writing today on when it’s time to go.

Kenny Conley just left a major ministry in Austin, Texas. He shares some thoughts on why he left and insights into how he knew it was time to go in this post.

Sam’s been in the same place for 14 years and argues you ought to stay much longer than you might think.

Clearly, I’ve stayed for two decades in the same place. And I feel like I’m here indefinitely.

So how do you know it might be time to leave?

Here are 7 signs that would demonstrate to me it’s time to move on. If you see them in your situation, it might be time to go.

time to leave

1. You’ve lost your passion

We all lose passion some days. Your passion might even disappear for a short season. It happens to all of us. That’s actually not a reason to move on.

Loss of passion might be a sign you’re burning out, or it could be that you need some rest or another adjustment. Moving to a new church won’t solve that kind of passion-loss. In fact, it might make it worse.

But one sign your time in a place could be drawing to a close is that you’re basically healthy but your passion for that particular ministry is gone.

You’re still passionate about life. You’re passionate about other things. You may even be passionate about other ministries or other opportunities.

It’s just your passion for ministry in that place and time has vaporized.

If that’s the case, it’s a sign the end may be near. Why?

Because a passionless leader is an ineffective leader.

2. There’s no other role you could get excited about

Just because your passion is fading in one area doesn’t mean your tenure at a church is over.

Last year, I knew I didn’t want to leave my church but I found my passion for the things I was doing getting narrower.

After what was truly a few incredible months of prayer and processing with mentors and our elders, I transitioned from the Lead Pastor role at my church (being the Lead Pastor is the only role I’ve held in a church since I started) into a Founding and Teaching Pastor role.

The result? I love it. My passion is back, stronger than ever, and I’m completely excited about the future of our church.

I got to keep the parts of my job I’m most passionate about and throw my weight behind our mission for a whole new season.

If you want more on the transition (many of you have asked) I’ll share the entire story in an upcoming episode of my Leadership Podcast. (If you subscribe for free, the episode will automatically download to your phone or device when it releases.)

Your renewal may not come from leaving, but simply changing what you’re doing where you are. Just switch roles.

3. You’ve affected all the change you can

Another sign it’s time to leave is simply this: you’ve affected all the change you can.

Maintaining what you’ve built never advances your mission because it elevates what happened yesterday over what could happen today and tomorrow.

Sometimes leaders realize they’ve done as much as they can.

Perhaps a new leader will need to come in to pick up where the current leader left off because the current leader has done everything they know how to do.

Or sometimes a leader’s desire to change exceeds the congregation’s willingness to change, despite long conversations about the need to change.

How do you know your church is done changing? In this post, I outline 7 signs your church will never change.

When your church won’t change or you can no longer lead that change, it might be time to go. Otherwise, all your best days will be behind you.

And when your best days are behind you, it’s time for a new future.

4. Your vision no longer lines up with the organization’s vision

The ideal leadership environment is when the leader’s vision and the organization’s vision line up.

Naturally, a leader will always be a little ahead of the church or organization—otherwise he or she wouldn’t be a leader.

But over time, the leader’s vision and the organization’s vision can become out of sync.

Sometimes the leader has more vision than the church can handle (see Point 3 above). And sometimes the organization wants to go faster or head in a more progressive direction than the leader.

Or sometimes the visions just become different.

Great leadership requires a syncing of the leader’s vision with the organization’s direction. When that’s not true, great leadership becomes impossible.

5. You feel like a fish out of water

This is a bit of an odd one, but I’ve had it happen to me more than once—not at our church, but with different organization’s I’ve partnered with.

Sometimes you fit really well into an organization; the cultural sync is perfect. You are what they are about and they are what you’re about…or at least as close as you can get this side of heaven.

But as time goes on, you change or the organization changes. Maybe your values shift. Or as you grow as a leader, you morph into a different kind of leader than you used to be.

Maybe you’re largely the same but the organization shifts, not in terms of vision, but in terms of style, culture and feel.

The best way I can describe how that feels when it’s happened to me is that I end up feeling like a fish out of water.

What used to be so natural and easy now makes me feel like I just don’t fit—for whatever reason.

When you no longer feel like you fit, you’ll never realize your full potential as a leader. And the organization won’t realize their potential either.

6. Your excitement about what’s happening elsewhere is greater than your passion for what’s happening where you are

When you’re more excited about someone else’s future than your organization’s future, you’re in trouble.

Nobody should be more passionate about a church’s future than a leader. Why? No church’s passion for the mission will ever exceed the passion of its leader. Sure, for a week it can. Or a month. But never for long.

If your passion for what’s happening elsewhere is greater than your passion for what’s happening where you are, it’s almost impossible to stay where you are.

Naturally, you would have to make sure you’re not struggling with a ‘grass is greener’ scenario, but sometimes you genuinely are not.

7. Your inner circle agrees

All of these signs notwithstanding, how do you know you’re reading the situation correctly?

Answer? You don’t.

But other people do.

That’s why it’s so important to cultivate and consult an inner circle of people who know you well. If you’re married, your spouse will have great insight into whether you’re reading the signs accurately.

In addition, every leader should have an inner circle of at least 3 to 5 people who know them well enough and love them deeply enough to tell them the truth.

I get emails all the time from leaders who ask me whether they should stay in their job or go, and I always tell them: go ask someone who knows you and knows the situation. I hate it when they email me back and tell me they don’t have anyone like that.

I honestly can’t help them, and they’ve left themselves isolated and prone to making bad decisions. No ‘expert’ can help them in a case like that.

I have no idea whether they should stay or go other than to send them a post like this and tell them to prayerfully apply it to their situation with the counsel of people around them.

I could never have made the move – or would  have made the move –  I made last year into a Founding and Teaching Pastor role without the input of not only my inner circle, but also about a dozen other close friends and associates who weighed in on my decision.

I definitely prayed about it at length, but we prayed about it at length, too. And we talked about it—openly and honestly, weighing all the pros and cons before making a decision.

After all, if you’re the only one who thinks it’s a good idea, it’s probably not a good idea.

Want More?

I had a great conversation with former Catalyst CEO Brad Lomenick on why he left Catalyst at the height of its success in this episode of my leadership podcast. You can listen to Episode 27 direct on iTunes or Google Play or below.

And make sure you check out Sam and Kenny’s posts about staying and leaving for their perspective.

In the meantime, what do you think?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

16 Comments

  1. John on November 9, 2018 at 8:45 pm

    When you get treated like you don’t belong. Face double standards. People don’t value your time and effort. Favortism. Being treated like you are new even though you’ve been going for years. Unrepentant gossipers. When people don’t have faith in the holy spirit and heckle those that are led by the holy spirit. When they decide behind your back that because you’re different some how even though you’ve brought positive things to the church that they will make you feel unwelcomed. When you warn someone of an event that could put them in harm’s way and they decide you are demonic somehow proving they don’t understand how gifts of prophecy operate yet claim to have these gifts too.

    When they bash you and minimize you but can’t be bothered to change their ways giving the same excuse “We’re sinners and it’s okay for us!” When you feel drained instead of uplifted.

  2. Bill Berger on June 11, 2018 at 11:57 am

    Carey,

    This post is so timely for me. I am the founding pastor of our church and have been leading for 17 years. I resonate strongly with your idea to hand off the lead role and assume the role that best fits your passion and gifts. I have learned that management skills are completely different than entrepreneurial skills. I have tried to conform but have realised that my best place to serve our church is not the lead. I would like to hear more how you navigated this.

  3. […] I outline 7 signs you’ve peaked as a leader here, and 7 signs it’s time to move on in this post. […]

  4. Harry Court on April 4, 2018 at 4:21 pm

    This is my 27th year in the church my wife and I pioneered from nothing.

    Point 8 would be what if you get too old as sometimes the average age of your group follow your age, just as a pastor in tight jeans at 30 will have an age group around his age (in general) I have a young youth pastor and assistant pastor who will replace us.

    Not sure what I will do when I retire ….can only mow the grass once a week.

  5. Mike on April 4, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    Thank you, Carey, for this article. I have been at my church for 15 years; 10 in KidMin, 2 in StudentMin, 2 as campus pastor, and now a year into overseeing the staff. I have really been struggling to sense God’s direction in whether or not I need to move on. I am not a quitter by nature and tend to push through quitting points. However, in the last year I have started to feel like a “fish out of water.” My style of leadership is different and the relational, caring, and fun culture I tend to culminate is contrary to the policing, demanding, check up on everyone “or else” culture that senior leadership embodies. I spend a lot of my time talking people “away from the ledge” because of the way they feel they are treated by the Senior Pastor. However, based on #3 and #7, I am reassured that I am not done here. My inner circle, the elders, and longtime church members assure me that I CAN make a difference but that it will take a while. If you have any insight for me specifically, I would love to hear back from you.

  6. Beverly Blakemore on May 31, 2017 at 10:06 am

    2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

    If we’re getting anything else out of our Christian experience, then we’re being misdirected. In this paradigm, it’s not about the skills which you bring to the table. Salvation… Redemption: those are the transforming and changing elements in the Church, and that is only because of Jesus Christ.

    So often, I hear pastors and preachers using words like “transformation”, “change”, “influence” and “facilitator”. Already, churches spend more time during the week being office buildings with employees than churches. It seems that the role of pastor is being redefined to CEO. This Business paradigm, with its Leadership guidelines and FAQs, has become ubiquitous within the Church. It doesn’t belong there, and I think that it’s doing grave damage to the Church.

    I hate the use of the word “facilitator” within the paradigm of Christ’s Church because a facilitator in Business and in Politics is really someone who guides a group of people to a predetermined conclusion in such a way that they believe it was their own unforced, natural conclusion. That’s where you get your Transformation and Change in the World.

    If we must use the word, then let us use it as an empowering and enabling tool to bring people closer to God, who does ALL the transforming and changing Himself. The pastor only guards the people and facilitates people’s journey into the knowledge of God and into His presence. The pastor disciples- facilitates the congregation towards ability in prayer, the study of God’s Word, and evangelism.

    Is it that pastors are perhaps a little ashamed of their station if they incorporate the Business model into their churches? If the vision of the pastor is not something to do with the elements in the above paragraph, then it’s not the Church anymore. Since when does the shepherd change anything or anyone in the Church? Since when does anyone but God transform in the Church?

    A CEO works his way up the ladder of authority and influence and smells like Ralph Lauren; a shepherd fights off wild animals and smells like sheep. Two very different job descriptions.

  7. Glenn Cazar on March 27, 2017 at 7:47 am

    All of these points is exactly me. Except for my inner circle. I don’t really have one, except for the leaders in which only half I trust. I needed to read this…

  8. Nathan Walter on September 21, 2016 at 1:12 pm

    I would also say, regarding your 5th point, sometimes you just don’t fit into the area you’re trying to reach.

    I served an area where my personality, my interests, and my values clashed. It was different than the values I was raised with. Culturally, politically, socially… just different all around. The things I enjoyed, leisure wise, no one in the area seemed to enjoy, thus there was no outlet for personal leisure amongst my peers. My personality clashed. I am a slow and methodical person who tends to conversation and relationships, whereas the area was high-energy, industrious and guarded.

    None of this is to speak ill of that church or that area, but rather to recognize that not every pastor is a perfect fit everywhere. I appreciated this post.

  9. Richard Myerscough on September 12, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    Hey Carey – would be interested to know if you’d include in reasons to leave anything of the pastor/leader’s family circumstances? Would that be legitimate? Say if the pastor is married and his wife is struggling, in a variety of ways? Or his children? I know some for whom that is significant.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 13, 2016 at 10:02 am

      I think that’s totally relevant. A divided house has a hard time standing.

  10. Check out | HeadHeartHand Blog on September 12, 2016 at 6:48 am

    […] 7 Signs It’s Time to Leave Seven indicators that it may be time for a pastor to time to move on from his congregation. […]

  11. Harlen Johnson on September 7, 2016 at 9:21 am

    I sooooooooo appreciate this post. Thank you for putting things into perspective for me. As a pastor I have struggled with this very aspect of ministry. I also agree with the truth of having 3 to 5 men who know you well, to confide in and that will tell you exactly what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.

  12. Paul Carter on September 5, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    Good word Carey. Too many leave too soon – this article provides some useful metrics to think through before taking the leap. There is a time to leave and often God will not give any one leader all the gifts and vision necessary to bring a church into their full potential. He does this, I believe, to safeguard his glory. I don’t want to be remembered as the pastor who “led my church to the promised land”. I’d be happy to be remembered as a faithful servant who did his job humbly, diligently, passionately and prayerfully and then who faded off the stage so that Christ could receive the honour he is due. Thanks for this!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 7, 2016 at 9:23 am

      Thanks so much Paul. I totally agree. If we all do our part and play our role, the church thrives and Christ is honoured. Appreciate all you and First do in our community to further the Gospel Paul.

  13. Dear Pastor: Stay Where You Are. - samluce.com on September 1, 2016 at 8:20 am

    […] around this idea. I wrote about the importance of staying, Kenny is talking how to leave well and Carey is addressing when you should stay and when you should leave. This is a conversation that needs to be had because of the ramifications it has on the local […]

  14. Have Courage to Go | Childrens Ministry Online on September 1, 2016 at 7:20 am

    […] Stay Where you Are: Sam Luce 7 Signs it is Time to Leave: Carey Nieuwhof […]

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