My Church Is Making It Through the Pandemic. Is It Ok for Me to Leave?

A great reshuffling is beginning to take place. Many pastors are considering leaving their positions or transitioning to a new ministry. It’s not surprising. The pandemic has caused a lot of people, not just pastors, to rethink their professions.

Unlike some jobs, pastors do not have the ability to work from anywhere. A church is in a specific location. Pastors are called to a people in a place. The church is a gathered people with an address. I realize there are a handful of examples of digital churches, but most congregations meet at physical locations and will continue to do so.

Not every church has recovered from the last year, but many are beginning to stabilize. They may be smaller, but they are not going to close their doors. Now that the crisis has abated for these churches, some pastors are considering a transition. If that’s you, how can you know it’s ok to leave? The last time we had a pandemic on this scale was one hundred years ago. A frame of reference doesn’t exist.

First, it’s good to understand the motive behind a transition. Why are pastors wanting to leave or transition right now?

  1. Exhaustion: Pastors are not the only people who are tired. Just about everyone is! But the pandemic sucked the energy out of many pastors as they tried to make decisions about opening and closing, safety protocols, and digital services. Decision fatigue is hitting pastors especially hard.
  2. Change of scenery: Not every local and state government responded the same way, and churches in different regions had different requirements placed on them. In some regions, many believed the threats to religious liberty were real. Whether you agree or not, the reality is an exodus out of places like California and New York is occurring.
  3. Family: The loss of life is staggering, and pastors were not shielded. Many lost family members. Pastors, like others who have lost loved ones, are considering a move to be closer to other family members or desire to move back to their hometown.
  4. A new sense of calling: A crisis should prompt reflection. As pastors reflect, many are thinking about a new season of ministry.
  5. Getting pushed out: One of the ugliest parts of the pandemic in churches was the number of pastors who were pushed out. Unfortunately, power groups used the crisis for an evil cause. At Church Answers, we’ve heard story after story about pastors who were asked to leave during the pandemic.
  6. Retirement: While many pastors planned to stay in their roles into their seventies, the pandemic caused many to exit sooner than they anticipated. Some pastors retired early. Others used the last year to enact a succession plan.

Second, if you are considering making a transition, how do you make the decision? Asking some important questions can help you filter your thoughts. 

  1. Is the feeling recent or prolonged? Rash decisions are not good. Don’t make decisions when you are experiencing depression or anxiety. If the desire to move is recent, spend some time in prayer first. If you can’t shake the thought, then ask trusted mentors and advisors for their wisdom.
  2. Are you running from problems? Pastors who run from problems in churches often create more problems in their new churches.
  3. What is the push/pull factor? Most transitions are validated through a simple filter. You should feel a tug away from your church, and you should feel a pull towards a new church. In most cases, if you are only experiencing a push factor, then you are likely running from your problems. And if you are only experiencing a pull factor, then it’s likely a grass-is-greener syndrome.
  4. What is your family saying? Every marriage is different, but in most cases, it is not wise for a spouse to decide to move unilaterally. If you have older children, then include them in the decision as well. Ministry transitions tend to go better when the family has worked together to make the decision.

You’ve led your church through the pandemic. Perhaps your church is beginning to stabilize after the crisis. The thought is there. You want to transition to another church or into another role. It’s not necessarily a bad thought. Just make sure you filter your thoughts in a way that helps you discern God’s call. 

Posted on March 6, 2021

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10 Comments

  • Jesse r suguipit says on

    Thom good to hear spiritual strengthening words from you.as a pastor of a local church with 40 to 50 members joining together,at this pandemic most of them are out of job,how can we sustain our out reach ministry?can you give me Idea concerning this present problem that we have in our church.jesse

  • The institutional local church, like the broader economy, will experience what we call a “K” shaped recovery. I expect churches over 2000 in weekend attendance to get larger as we recover. The mid-sized churches, 200-1900, will evaporate or merge into larger churches. Small churches will be more or less the same.

    What is most concerning to me is that the average pastor/board/elders are missing the opportunity here. I’ve consulted 20+ churches since the pandemic kicked off and they all intend to double down on the model of putting 80%+ of their resources into getting people to show up to a building every single week and/or digitizing that experience. Instead they should be taking the opportunity to make the adaptations we’ve been telling them to make for the last 10 years (and I’m not talking digital).

    What I see happening at the pastor level is they are finally starting to realize that the Kingdom imperatives and the imperatives of the institutional local church are not as aligned as they have been pretending they are and their congregations (especially Gen-X and younger) see that now, partly because of the pandemic. Keeping up that charade has been exhausting and they are burned out and dreading going back to “normality” and having to do it again. The back channel conversations after I’m having with pastors is; “Can you look at my resume? I’d like to get a job in the marketplace.”

    We’ve been given an opportunity as the local church; we just have to capitalize it.

  • Eric Morrison says on

    I am also one that was not called for another year. It was over disagreements on how to handle the pandemic and although I did not make the final decisions, I was the one that received all the complaints. It blindsided the majority in my church and now there are two sides. I am trying to leave gracefully and encourage those who supported me to stay and provide leadership. Now I am searching for a home for my family and the Lord’s direction to a new ministry.

  • Larry Teasley says on

    As one who is in the process of transition from one appointment to another (I’m UMC), I appreciate your observations, Thom. I would say that have a Philippians 4:7 “peace that passes understanding” should also be a strong indicator such transition is warranted. I would add a caution. In times such as our pandemic, it might be easy to succumb to the “greener pastures” syndrome. I have to remind myself that the green pasture I see where I’m going (which I won’t know for a few more weeks) could very well look like brown dried up grass to the pastor I will follow. And the converse would be true for my successor. So when in such transition, or even considering such transition, we would be wise to remain cautious about this possibility. Thanks for your insightful observations.

  • This is a good process to know whether to stay or go. What helped me through the pandemic was church members committed to the leadership even in a difficult time.

  • Add me to the “pushed out” list…

  • One of the ways I fought exhaustion during the pandemic was maintaining a rhythm of life and spiritual practices. Without too many details the best remedy for exhaustion was letting go of doing everything for everyone, making time for myself to unplug from the noise, and allowing imperfection. Partly because people didn’t place as high a standard on me as I did.