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At a Crossroad?

Dave Jobe

When you feel like quitting, don't leave until you get the green light from God to say goodbye. Here's help for you to know if God is moving you from your current ministry or not

Are you at a crossroads in your current ministry position? Perhaps you're trying to determine if you should leave or stay? If you go, where should you go? If you're standing at an intersection in your ministry, think of this juncture like approaching a traffic signal. A red light indicates you should stay where you are, while a green light says it's time to move on. A yellow light warns you to be cautious as you proceed. Prayerfully assess these five areas as you seek God's leadership in this decision.

1. Who are you? You're fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). God knew you before you were formed in your mother's womb, and he set you apart for something before you were even born (Jeremiah 1:5). You're a unique individual with personality strengths and limitations. Only as your personality is in alignment with your ministry will you be able to be authentic.

Related to your personality is your giftedness. Romans 12:6 says, "We have different gifts, according to the grace given us." Closely associated with your gifts are your talents, abilities, and skills -- all of which should be evaluated as to how they're being used in your current position. Books and inventories are available to help you understand your personal makeup to determine if you're using your God-given design with respect to your job. But beyond the formulas, ask yourself, "Is what I'm doing in this ministry life-giving and joy-producing in my life?" If so, that's the Holy Spirit's confirmation that your God-given design and ministry position are a good match.

Addressing this area is very important, because in an average week, two thirds of your waking hours are spent at your job. Life is more satisfying if you spend your life doing what you were made for!

Circle the traffic light that best fits your situation.

[red light] "I was made to do this. I can't imagine doing anything else."

[yellow light] "I'm tired of doing things that don't seem to come naturally to me."

[green light] "I can't be myself in this position. This just isn't a good match."

(Yellow light caution! If you're in the yellow light area, you may need to give those tiring jobs to others on your team who are gifted in the specific areas that are stressing you out.)

2. Are you satisfied? The degree to which you experience job satisfaction reveals how well your vocational needs and desires are being fulfilled. How do you feel about your current position? If your ministry is robbing you of joy and taking the edge off your vibrancy, that could be God's green light that frees you to look for a change.

Circle the light that best fits your situation.

[red light] "I love this church! I could retire here!"

[yellow light] "I need a new challenge."

[green light] "It's a challenge to get out of bed and go into work."

(Green light caution: Ask God to show you what's at the root of your struggle. It could be that there are personal issues that need to be resolved rather than quitting. If not resolved, you'll carry those issues with you into your next position.)

3. Does your job challenge you? Evaluate your current position as to whether or not it stimulates you. Not everything related to your job will be fun, but does the overall challenge match your abilities and drive?

Circle the light that best fits your situation.

[red light] "I have enough to keep me challenged for a long time."

[yellow light] "All our problems are solved."

[green light] "I feel that I've done all I can do here."

(Yellow light warning: Don't be so sure! A children's ministry is a living, breathing organism that produces new challenges all the time. Perhaps it's time for your team to have a prayer/evaluation/planning meeting.)

4. Do you have opportunities for impact? You need to stay or move according to the situation that maximizes ministry to children. Reasonably evaluate your abilities and motives, but if you feel that God has more for you to do than you're presently allowed to do, look for the place that God want you to be -- somewhere else.

Circle the light that best fits your situation.

[red light] "I'm continuing to experience fruit in kids' lives."

[yellow light] "I haven't seen fruit in my kids' lives in a while."

[green light] "I feel blocked from truly impacting children in my church for the kingdom of God."

(Yellow light warning: Jesus promised that we would bear fruit if we would abide in him. Ask God to show you what the problem is with a lack of fruit in your ministry.)

5. How strong are existing relationships with staff and lay leaders? God questioned through the prophet Amos, "Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?" (Amos 3:3). Jesus said, "A household divided against itself will not stand" (Matthew 12:25). Harmony is essential among those leading the church for ministry to move ahead.

Effective ministry rarely occurs amidst strained relationships, and unresolved issues can lead to a dysfunctional church family. Harmony fosters joy, encouragement, and growth; disgruntlement leads to resistance. If tensions are unresolvable, the impasses may necessitate a move for someone; it may be you, but it may also be someone else.

Circle the light that best fits your situation.

[red light] "I have sufficient congregational and staff unity and support."

[yellow light] "I need to resolve conflict with a few key people."

[green light] "I experience chronic conflict and resistance in my relationships with staff and lay leaders."

(Warning light: Don't let the sun go down on your conflict. Unresolved issues have a way of festering into a stench that could lead to more than the demise of your job. Deal with it today!)

To Pack Or Not?

Along with an accurate read on the signals, here are seven practical steps for you to take now. These steps are listed in their priority.

1. Go before God. Talking to God through prayer is only part of the communication process with God. Although the Bible is the ultimate instruction book on discerning God's will, God isn't limited to his written Word. Remember, it was Elijah who received assurance of God's leading through God's "still small voice" (1 Kings 19:12). God chose not to use a spectacular demonstration indicating a direction to follow. Just as God came to Elijah in the form of an internal whisper, God will come to you at the crossroads in your life.

2. Discuss your concerns with your family. In particular, if you're married, make the decision with your spouse. Without essential whole-hearted agreement that a change is the right thing for both of you and any school-age children you have in your household, you'd better not make a change. However, minimal openness to God's leading is permission to investigate a change, and high interest is a clear signal to be open to a change.

3. Develop a personal mission statement. This can be a great help in deciding what path you'll follow. Lori Beth Jones in her book The Path: Creating Your Mission Statement for Work and Life (Hyperion) writes, "Knowing your personal mission statement is the best career insurance you can have, because once you are clear about what you were put here to do, then 'jobs' become only a means toward your mission, not an end in themselves." Refer to The Path for step-by-step guidance that can make writing a mission statement a matter of hours rather than months or years.

4. Consider your options as they relate to your personal mission statement. In his book, Wounded Workers: Recovering From Heartache in the Workplace and the Church (Winepress), Kirk Farnsworth suggests putting a spiritual foundation under any effort of considering your options.

He says, "First identify specific times in the past when God has clearly guided you. These are called spiritual markers, and they will help you to see God's perspective of your past and present. When your markers align with an option for the future, they will give you confidence in the path you should take. However, where there is no consistency with any option for the future, God may be telling you to continue praying and seeking His guidance."

Farnsworth gives the Time-Line Exercise as an effective way to identify spiritual markers. This exercise will help you see how God has been at work in your life, perhaps in ways that you haven't previously recognized. Farnsworth describes this process:

"Start by writing down the significant people, events and circumstances that have shaped your life throughout your life history.

"Organize them chronologically and note those that represent painful or negative experiences. Next, list insights that you have gained from those items: insights that you believe God has used in shaping your life into what it is today. Pay particular attention to transition times, times when you were encountering change, considering making a commitment or coping with a crisis. These insights that God has shown you -- through times of change, commitment and crisis -- are your spiritual markers for your present circumstance. Identifying these markers is basic to forming your spiritual foundation."

5. Seek counsel. Bounce your thoughts off two or three people who know you well. You may even want to connect with a psychologist or career counselor for an objective response.

6. Find out where God is at work. Network through family members and friends to find out where God is working. Ask God to show you if he might be calling you to come and join the work in a new place.

7. Move in a direction away from -- or to -- something now. Discern God's confirmation or lack thereof along the way. Paul writes that as Christians we've been given a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). If Christ is in you, you can make confident decisions. God wants us to know his direction for our lives as we're immersed in our relationship with him.

Saying Goodbye

Once you decide that leaving is the best thing to do for everyone -- and especially for your emotional and spiritual health -- you need to act on leaving. Scripture gives us examples of parting ways. Paul and Barnabas parted company over a disagreement so that both of their ministries could grow and flourish (Acts 15). They agreed to disagree and chose to go their separate ways. A similar decision in your case might be best for all parties and eventually be viewed as a win-win situation.

Write a letter of resignation. What you say in the letter should not compromise your integrity and conscience, nor by any means should you say something that you'll regret in the future. Be specific as to when your resignation is effective. Make sure the amount of time between submitting your letter and the actual resignation date is in accord with the church policy. Before submitting your letter, ask the people you got advice from previously to read and edit your letter.

Once the congregation knows of your resignation, be prepared to answer questions. Most people will fall somewhere in the grief process:

  • denial -- "no way";
  • anger -- "whose fault is this?";
  • bargaining -- "maybe if we 'fix' things, you'll stay"; and
  • acceptance -- "God is in control."

Allow these people to move through the grief process at their own pace.

Anticipate and prepare for the hard questions ahead of time by agreeing with those you previously reported to as to what's a mutually acceptable response to questions. Be as specific as possible without wounding the church on your way out. If your reason is too nebulous such as, "It's in the best interest of our family," people may wonder if someone in your family has cancer or if your marriage is breaking up. In any case, request that everyone who knows the details share only what's been agreed upon. I can assure you that the phone calls and visits will come.

Take care of your family during the transition. Even though your family members were involved in the decision-making process, they too are in a process of change and recovery just as you are. When children are involved, it might be good for someone from outside the church -- a denominational representative, a counselor, or possibly a mature friend who relates well to children -- to visit with them, share the promises of God's faithfulness from Scripture, and talk about any personal stories of experiencing God's faithfulness in change.

As you work through the change and begin to explore new possibilities, keep talking as a family. When I left a staff position in one of the churches I served, my 6-year-old daughter's greatest fear was that we would become homeless. We talked about this issue and I constantly assured her that God, our relatives, and good friends would never allow that to happen.

Also, keep praying individually, as a couple, and as a family. Give God the glory for his faithfulness and lean on him for the future. You may not actually feel this while you're in the process of saying goodbye to a church that you've invested your life with, but it is true: God is good all the time. And all the time, God is good (Psalm 100:5).


Dave Jobe is the pastor with children and families at Mercer Island Covenant Church in Mercer Island, Washington. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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