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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

25 Jul '13

When is it time to leave?

Posted by T.J. Addington in leadership transitions, leaving well
Nothing is forever - and part of a wise leader's (or key staff member's) periodic evaluation is whether it is time to consider moving on. Interestingly, when that time comes - and it comes for all of us one way or another - it is usually a good thing both for us and for the organization we serve.

A key issue for us to remember is that our work with any organization is a stewardship. In ministry, even if we started and built an organization our work is a stewardship to that organization on behalf of Christ. And, when we can no longer move the organization forward effectively, a part of our stewardship is to ask the question of whether our time 'here' is up.

Asking this question does not mean that we have failed. In fact, just the opposite is true. If we can discern that our time is up, we will have helped the organization. Those who cannot discern the right timing do actually end up hurting their organization. This is not about failure, it is about seasons of life.

What are some of the signs that our time is up?

When our organization has plateaued, or has moved into decline and we are unable to figure out how to reinvision the ministry. There are times when we have run out of ideas or an ability to lead the organization to the next level.

Rather than holding on and pretending that things are like they used to be when the organization was doing well, we serve ourselves and our ministry by saying, "we need fresh ideas and I need a fresh challenge." There is NO shame in that. It is actually deeply honorable because it refuses to compromise the mission (which transcends us) and acknowledges that we are not the right one "for this hour."

When there is conflict we cannot solve. There are also times when there is a level of conflict in the organization for a long enough time that we know in our hearts we cannot solve the problem and that it will take someone else to get the job done. It makes sense, in this case to step aside, both for our own health as well as for the health of the organization.

This does not mean that we run from conflict. It does mean that if we cannot solve the problem, for whatever reason, we don't hold on and allow the situation to compromise our future ministry or the chance that someone else could come in and solve the problem.

When we have become deeply restless over a period of time. Long time restlessness is often an indication from God that we need a new challenge. This differs from the issue above because things may be doing just fine in our organization - and we know we could continue on for the rest of our career. But the restlessness does not leave.

If you are restless and it does not go away, consider the fact that God has another assignment for you where you will be challenged to grow and develop in a new way. I spoke recently with an effective pastor in a healthy church who with tears in his eyes said "T.J., I know I could stay where I am but there is a restlessness in my soul. I am 50 something years old and I just feel like there is one more run that God has for me. What do I do?" He is feeling the restlessness of the Spirit and needs to pay close attention to it.

When we have lost the confidence either of the board (if we are the senior leader) or our supervisor (if we are part of the team). This takes good EQ on the part of a leader or staff member. In ministry organizations, one can lose the confidence of a board or a supervisor long before they will take action to suggest you move along - there is a lot of grace and a lot of conflict avoidance in ministry organizations.

However, here is the truth of the matter. When this happens, whether it feels just or not, and whether we agree or not, our ability to minister is severely compromised because those we need support from are no longer giving it. Wise people choose to address the issue and have a frank conversation with their board or supervisor and if it is clear that the necessary support is not there, they will be proactive in looking for God's next assignment.

The final reason to leave is where God grabs our heart - unexpectedly - for something we were not looking for or seeking. This one takes great discernment because we may be seeing great success in our current ministry and thus have no reason to leave. But, God may have a reason and we need to discern whether the opportunity is someone else's desire for our lives or our desire for our lives.

These decisions are not always easy, and life is not always fair, as I can attest. I have had to make these decisions - I know. But in the end it is not about us but about the ministry we serve. I honor those who are willing to ask the question and act in the best interests of the organization.

I am saddened by those who in spite of all the evidence choose to hang on and in hanging on, hurt the very organization they had served so well.