When Does a Preacher Decide to Leave?

How does a preacher make the decision to leave the congregation where he’s working and move to another? Here’s the way I did it.

In my ministry, I decided to go…

  1. When living conditions weren’t adequate for my family. When you’re living on a tight budget, counting every penny, and there’s no money for groceries for your new baby, insurance, clothes, or furniture, it’s time to go. They said they were thinking about a raise. But thinking doesn’t pay bills. When you’re living in a house where you can’t heat and eat at the same time without blowing a fuse in a 60-amp fusebox, it’s time to go.
  2. When an elder told me between Bible study and worship, I should think about resigning that day. I didn’t know how to handle his request without panic and despair. If someone made the same suggestion today, I would ask, “What did the other elders say? When will we meet to discuss this? I don’t have time before worship, which starts in five minutes.” But on December 19, 1976, at 10:20 a.m., I didn’t have the calmness to think of choices and ask for help. It was time to go. Additional information: The Best Day to Fire Your Preacher , 3 Ways I Helped Get Myself Fired .
  3. When leaders decided I had too much power and reduced my input on the leadership team. A counselor told me, “Jerrie, unless you run off with the secretary or steal their money, they won’t fire you. You can stay here until you die. But they will ignore you. If you enjoy writing or something else to feel a sense of accomplishment, you can stay and be happy. If you need to be involved in the working of this congregation to thrive, you need to look elsewhere.”
  4. When I was an unintentional interim, and I didn’t want to spend decades overcoming the handicap. Some of the best training for interim ministry was experiencing what it’s like to be punished for something I didn’t do. The best time to respond to that situation is before you move. The best time to get a divorce is before you get married when the marriage won’t be mutually encouraging. But I’m glad I could get training at the University of Hard Knocks. I’m a better interim minister because of those five years.
  5. When I planned to leave before I began. At my last church, I considered interim ministry after my full-time work. I shared my intentions before I started my work at Berry’s Chapel. The elders and I discussed this in yearly reviews. We planned in more detail as time drew closer. I resigned three years before I left. We wanted to make a smooth, planned transition.

My advice for elders and preachers: before you begin, discuss:

  1. How long does the preacher plan to stay?
  2. How does the preacher promise to leave? Revisit an exit plan once a year until you leave. You’ll leave by death, disability, your choice, their choice, or by cooperatively working on a transition to bless this congregation and you. Leave on purpose rather than accidentally. Leave with mutual plans and wisdom of the leaders and yourself.

Sometimes, someone damages or destroys the excellent work they’ve done by the harsh way they leave. The best time to discuss this is before the relationship formally begins.

These were not circumstances where churches did me wrong, and I did everything right, and I had to move. There were issues I didn’t know a wise way to respond. With more experience, I learned from each move and later could meet similar opportunities and encourage growth for all involved.

How have you decided to leave?


(Thank you to Jeff and Dale Jenkins for permission to use this. This first appeared in Hope and Expectation, a work of The Jenkins Institute. Subscribe to their valuable resources: http://www.thejenkinsinstitute.com)

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Jerrie Barber
Disciple of Jesus, husband, grandfather, preacher, barefoot runner, ventriloquist

6 Responses to “When Does a Preacher Decide to Leave?

  • Gary Hampton
    5 years ago

    Thank you for the thoughtful words. Knowing when to leave/stay is one of the great challenges of preaching. I never wanted to stay so long that I unintentionally tore down the work to which I had devoted so much of my life. I have added a portion to my prayer life that I find helpful. “Lord, please open the door(s) you want me to go through and close all the rest.”

    • Gary,

      You are welcome.

      You have been kind and thoughtful in your ministry. I’m sure applying James’ principle of praying for wisdom has been helpful.

  • Ted Burleson
    5 years ago

    Thank you, Jerrie, for sharing your wisdom and experience.

  • Graham McKay
    5 years ago

    Jerrie:; thanks. You really know well & can advise correctly on how to a interim & really help a local church ( large or small ). You said you learned by experience & hard knocks. Yes. But when I met you & received some of your books { Berry’s chapel) I believe you were taking courses at a seminary to learn & apply even more .. for the value & blessings to God’s kingdom. So. ありがとう[ thanks] Graham McKay

    • Graham,

      Thank you for your kind remarks.

      I appreciate your work — expecially in helping us understand and appreciate our songs.