I am usually speaking out against leaving ministry too soon and finding that much of the foundation laying involved in establishing good discipleship is missing as a result of a “too soon” departure. It happens far too often in modern day church planting work.
However, in this post, I want to entertain the question of “staying too long”. More significantly, what are some of the signs that the long term ministry in one context has begun to hold back the growth and development that was its very purpose in the first place?
Sign #1 is obvious. You have stayed too long if your on-site presence is holding others back from taking initiative, responsibility or getting involved in ways that would help them to grow to greater fruitfulness. It’s tricky because they may be holding back for reasons unrelated to your presence OR your presence could be (unintentionally I might add) creating an atmosphere of hesitation for fear of “messing with a good thing”. Or you could be outright possessive and limiting people because of some horrible things like jealousy or fear of failure being reflected on you personally.
Sign #2 is complacent faith. You have stayed too long if you have grown overly comfortable in your role and find yourself being able to manage it well with comfortable systems that seldom stretch your faith muscles. It’s really case of too much of a good thing makes us soft and lazy. It can happen even in growing ministry contexts. All Christian leaders and church planters need a significant amount of faith stretching courage in order to keep growing toward maturity. Sometimes this need is answered by moving on from a ministry and taking on new challenges as led by the Spirit of God.
Sign #3 is a double bladed sword. You may have stayed too long if you find yourself surrounded by unexplainable conflict. The key I think is understanding divisiveness and having a willingness to move on if your continuing role is potentially divisive over non-Biblical issues or issues of personal preference. However, you cannot afford to move on without spending significant time openly with other leaders and before the Lord asking for wisdom to see it for what it really is. “Lord, are my attitudes and actions contributing to the conflict?” “Am I being consistently humble and teachable?”
So how do you know when it might be time to move on and how often should you ask the question? I’m not sure, but I think that there is wisdom in having accountability with others in leadership around you that help you process the question and make sure that you are processing the question from the right perspective. It’s way too easy to deceive ourselves into thinking our motives are other than they really are.
PS. Some potentially bad reasons for moving on from a ministry context are: boredom, frustration, greener pastures, or weariness.