How to Know When to Leave

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Sometimes you have to walk away.

That’s a painful truth in ministry. Sometimes you’ve worked so long, fought so hard, influenced to the extent of your capabilities, and had all the difficult conversations that are necessary and there’s no sight of growth or change on the horizon. It could be an unchangeable systemic problem, nearsighted leadership, entrenched members, persecution, overwhelming political interests, or some combination of all of these external problems that prompts a minister to move on. Or, it could be a change of life circumstances, a heart that is pulled toward a new ministry focus, a family need, or some combination of these internal conflicts that prompts a minister to move on. Whether the root cause is internal or external, sometimes the only solution is to shake the dust off your feet and walk away.

So, if change is inevitable, how do you know when to leave? First, let’s consider what not to do.

Five mistakes when leaving becomes an option:

1. Allowing difficult circumstances to damage your heart, family, or friendships.

Some people are able to leave work at the office. Some bring it home with them. And, many ministry families have suffered because of the residue of struggles at church that have been allowed to creep in. By all means, preserve your heart, family, and friendships. They’re too important.

2. Believing the grass is greener.

It’s not. I’ve known ministers who regularly move from church to church. Either they leave when their bag of tricks is empty or they skip to the next more-prestigious assignment that comes their way. Sure, some churches are healthier than others, but simply moving on in order to avoid problems is not a solution that honors the church or deals in solid logic. Don’t jump over the fence just because you believe you’ll graze better.

3. Leaving too soon.

Friction and traction are inseparable. Way too many church leaders view friction as a sign that they ought to give up rather than conceiving of it as the precursor to the traction for which they strive. There will always be difficulty and discomfort. Great leaders push through and love people along the way. Don’t make the mistake of leaving too soon and miss the opportunities that are often just around the bend.

4. Staying too long at the expense of your character.

Wrong is wrong. Sin is sin. And, sometimes staying too long means that you actually perpetuate problems, endorsing them by your presence. And, it is quite possible to simply inherit guilt by association. Rise above. When it becomes clear that there is a deep-rooted moral impediment, you’ve done all you can to lovingly expose and heal the issues, and sin is allowed to persist, have the character to walk away.

5. Creating a mess on the way out.

Once the decision is made, it’s done. No good can come from being a disruption, making accusations, or fouling things up on your way out. Be gracious. Be slow to speak. Give up the right to defend yourself by casting aspersions on others. Just go. Speak well of Christ’s church. And, throw your heart into leading her elsewhere.

So, if you’re working hard to avoid these mistakes, how do you know when it’s really time to leave? 

How to know when to leave:

Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula. But, there are a few signposts that you’ll see along the way.

1. The Spirit prompts, nudges, or provides opportunities.

I’m not talking about open doors or outrageous circumstances. I’m talking about the Spirit’s still, small voice. What is the Spirit placing on your heart? What Scriptures is the Spirit bringing to your mind? Tune in. If he is the catalyst, he will also be the guide, comfort, and provision. Lean on him and step out.

2. The godly voices in your life encourage you to move on.

Who are these voices? Well, I’d begin with your spouse. Then, I’d include your accountability partner, ministry peers, godly counselor, concerned friend, or fellow small group member. Most of the time, assuming you aren’t quite hearing the Spirit’s voice, these will be the voices the Spirit will use to get your attention. Listen to them. Weigh what they’re saying against your experience and against what God’s saying to you in his Word. Don’t discount the observations they share or the wisdom they provide. Take stock. If the godly people in your life are unified in encouraging you to consider moving on, it might be time to brush up the résumé.

3. You’ve done all you can do to live at peace with others.

I love Paul’s advice in Romans 12:18. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Living at peace with everyone is obviously the objective. But, I love the qualifiers: if it is possible and as far as it depends upon you. Do all you can. Be above reproach in your thoughts, attitudes, motives, and actions. (Read all of Romans 12 if you need some tips.) You still might reach the point at which peace simply isn’t possible. It doesn’t all depend upon you. It’s OK—regrettable but OK—to walk away if this is the case.

4. You’ve handed off ministry to capable hands.

This is a different point from what I’ve listed above. But, if ministers take seriously their calling to equip God’s people to do the work of the church, there may come a time when your services simply aren’t needed. You’ve replaced yourself. That would be a success! And, assuming there’s not another role to step into, it might be best to move on and to continue equipping others elsewhere. If this is the situation in which you find yourself, congratulations! You’ve done well.

It’s never easy to leave a ministry into which you’ve poured your heart and life. But, there’s one truth that can provide immense comfort during times of transition:

It’s God’s Church. He is still loving, leading, and guiding her whether we’re present or not. We’re leaving her in capable hands.

What about you?

Have you ever had to make a transition? How did you know when to leave?

Back in the Saddle, Part 2

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I recently wrote about the journey our family has taken over the last 12 months. Now that I’m back in the saddle, I want to share the lessons God has been teaching me in the process.

1. God never changes.

It doesn’t matter what craziness is going on in the world—and there is so much of it—he never changes. He is always good. Always present. Giving us grace upon grace. Forgiving. Leading. Guiding.

In the same chapter in which he encourages us to be joyful in our trials, James reminds us that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows,” (James 1:17). It’s not a coincidence that James reminds us about God’s constant nature in the same context in which he talks about painful trials. The weight of God’s unchanging glory is the ballast that keeps our ship upright during all of life’s storms.

There have been so many times when I’ve been amazed by God’s presence and provision during the last year. And I’m so grateful that he doesn’t ever forget about his people. That’s been crystal clear.

2. God’s people are amazing.

It has been truly humbling to be on the receiving end of so many prayers, gifts, and notes of encouragement. Seriously! How does anyone survive difficulties without God’s people surrounding them? For all the flak that Christians get in our cynical culture, try having a struggle or a need in their presence. Then, try not to be overwhelmed by the help you receive.

Our families pitched in to make sure our ends met. Neighbors’ parents dropped off boxes of groceries and an envelope full of gas money. Anonymous gifts appeared in our mailbox. People dropped by to offer help. Countless people prayed on our behalf. Coworkers (Kelly’s, not mine; I was out of work!) showered us with gift cards.

God used his people to continually remind me that he would “supply all [my] needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:19).

3. God is a Redeemer.

God must leap for joy when he encounters an outcast, a down-turned, cast-away, broken, bruised or damaged person. He never delights in our pain. Rather, he thrills to roll up his sleeves and to set about redeeming and restoring. He’s the champion of lost causes.

It’s incredible to see. It’s even better to experience.

God has reminded me, in no uncertain terms, that he “causes everything to work together for the good of those who love [him] and are called according to his purpose for them,” (Romans 8:28). If you’re hurting, keep waiting and watching. I can’t tell you what he has in store for you but I know that he’s at work and that, in the end, you’ll feel the same way I feel.

I’m back in the saddle

It’s been a wild ride. But, now that I have the privilege of being able to look back over the experience, I wouldn’t change it. I am right where God wants me to be. My family is thriving. Ministry is getting more and more exciting every day. It’s great to be back in the saddle!

Back in the Saddle

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If you would have asked me a year ago what I thought would happen in 2014, I guarantee I couldn’t have guessed.

It’s been a wild ride.

In the spring, a long chapter in ministry came to a close. We settled into a new church and a new chapter in the corporate world began almost immediately. We had a fantastic summer, got to experience a wonderful vacation with family, and returned home to the news that our great friends and next-door neighbors were opening a new chapter out of state. Then, the same week we watched their moving van pull away, I got pulled into my boss’s office and found out I was a part of a reduction of force. Terminated.

Ouch! That was a very bad week.

Sometimes, I think God wisely strips away the things we lean on to provide the clarity we need to follow him with renewed focus. A lot of times, what we’re leaning on—jobs, relationships, financial peace, status, familiarity—are the very things that keep us from leaning on him.

As we have done so frequently in the past, we circled the wagons, took a deep breath, and began scanning the horizon for signs of what God might be up to.

First, I should back up. When my ministry ended in the spring, I felt absolutely convicted that God hadn’t released our family from our ministry in the community in which we live. I didn’t want to chase ministry all over the country because I saw all the ministry we were continuing to do. And, to be honest, I had simply refused to enter into any conversation about getting back into ministry. I wasn’t having it. Looking back, my heart was a little hard. There was some hurt that had to heal. And, I knew I needed time.

About two weeks after that really bad August week, he began his work in my heart and in our family because a friend dared to follow his lead and speak up. One Friday, a good friend asked my wife, “Why doesn’t Kevin apply for the ministry position that’s open at Plainfield Christian Church?” Kelly didn’t know what to say; we hadn’t considered it. She texted me; I didn’t know how to reply. So I sat and thought about it. And, for the first time in several long months, I felt warmth, light, and enthusiasm begin to creep slowly back into my heart.

It was an awesome feeling.

That afternoon, Kelly and I decided we’d think on it over the weekend and that we’d honor God by pursuing it if he moved us in that direction. A couple hours later, a friend messaged me out of the blue and told me that I should pursue the opening at PCC. Strange. Then, later that evening, my parents came to visit. When we told them what had happened that day, my Dad got emotional and told us he’d been praying for ministry opportunities for us. The sermon that Sunday spoke directly to me and was the final straw. We talked and prayed that evening and determined that I needed to make a call the next day.

That Monday afternoon, I ended up having a conversation in the church office and a new adventure began to open up in front of us.

It’s been a month since I’ve officially been back in ministry. It is so good to be back in the saddle. God is good. I can see what he’s been up to. I know that what he has allowed has been for our good, our healing, and our protection. And, I am so excited for the future.

We’ve learned some incredible lessons … but I’m going to have to save that for another day.

Responding to Change, Part 2

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Several weeks ago, I wrote about a major change I was preparing to experience. I was leaving the familiar (i.e., safe, predictable, stable, comfortable) for the unknown (i.e., scary, unpredictable, uncertain, uncomfortable). At that time, I observed:

“In my mind, there are two main postures I can choose to embrace toward change. I can be a tortoise. Or, I can be a caterpillar … I want to be a caterpillar.”

In the face of danger, a tortoise withdraws into his protective shell, his little world. He remains still, waits for the danger to pass, and slowly continues at the same pace and in the same direction. A caterpillar, however, lives to change. She always moves toward it, preparing for it, embracing it. And, when the time is right, she emerges, transformed.

On Monday, I began a new career. And, as a bonus, I got a view that’s beautiful enough to make a butterfly jealous! It is refreshing to be on this side of this change. But, one of the unexpected experiences is that I have been contacted by a number of people who are struggling through significant changes of their own. Many of them have asked me the same questions and thought the same thoughts as me. The key question for all of us going through sometimes painful changes is:

Will we chose to be tortoises or caterpillars?

I have made a few observations about responding to change through this process. I want to share them in the hope that they might help some of my friends:

1. Changes can alter you outwardly without altering you inwardly.

When the caterpillar emerges from metamorphosis she looks completely different. But, inside, she’s still made of the same stuff. I entered this season of transition uncertain about what I would experience or what I would look like on the other end. But, I remained absolutely sure about who I was, what I believed, and what was right, true, and good. I have begun anew in entirely different surroundings but I feel just as certain—no, more certain—about God’s love and plan for me as well as how he wants to work through me.

2. Changes open the doors to incredible opportunities.

I’ve never seen a flying caterpillar. Without metamorphosis, a caterpillar would never experience the thrill of flight. That describes my experience. Instead of being dull, boring, and depressing, I count this as one of the most exhilarating seasons in recent memory. Instead of being nervous to meet new people and ask for help (more on that below), I found it thrilling to network, ask questions, secure leads, and make new connections. Each phone conversation, email correspondence, and coffee meeting led to even more connections and left me feeling energized and charged up about all of the opportunities around me. And, all of those conversations have started some great things.

3. Changes are wonderful at providing clarity.

Stability and predictability have the uncanny ability to lull us into complacency, blur our focus, and make us forget what is most important. Changes force you to take inventory of what—that is, who—is most important to you. For me, that answer is simple: it’s my wife, my son, my family and my close friends. This season afforded the most wonderful opportunity to spend huge amounts of time with the people who are in the center of my world. Knowing what is most important is incredibly freeing when you’re going through change. Change provides the gift of clarity.

4. You’re not in it alone.

I’ve never been good at asking for help. This situation has forced me to break through that barrier. And, I’ve been overwhelmed by the willingness—even eagerness—of people to do whatever they could to help. Family and friends prayed, fasted, and offered godly advice. Network connections shared wisdom and sent letters of introduction. Connected friends stuck out their own necks to provide their endorsements of my character and ability. And my wife—Oh, wow, my wife!—has been a force of nature, going above and beyond to do everything within her power to aid me through this process.

Change is difficult. Nobody chooses to go through painful and uncertain transitions. But, when they happen, we must realize we’ve been given an incredible gift … if we chose to be a caterpillar and not a tortoise.

What about you?

What changes are you experiencing? What are you learning?

When The Well Runs Dry

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What do you do when the well runs dry?

Back in the day—long before my day—if your well ran dry, you were in trouble. Your survival was threatened. While most of us are blessed to have indoor plumbing that pipes in fresh water from the city’s supply, that wasn’t always the case. Even though we’re not pumping water from a well and toting it back to the house, we all know what happens when we haven’t had enough to drink or when the lawn doesn’t get enough water. It only takes a day or two before what was once healthy and vital becomes arid, dry and shriveled.

The physical presence or absence of water is not a problem for most of us. But, a dry well is an all-too-appropriate metaphor for the all-too-common seasons of life. 

Think about it: marriage can become stale and predictable. Parenting can often be unrewarding. A job can become routine. Friendships can lose their freshness. Hopes and dreams can lose a little of their luster. Life happens. And, oftentimes, this can leave us feeling more than a little bit dry.

What can you do when the well runs dry?

I remember a conversation from years ago when a friend of mine told me that you have three choices when the well runs dry:

1. You can wait.

You can choose to sit around, scanning the horizon for signs of a rainstorm big enough to restore your well. You could wait for your marriage to improve, for your kids to appreciate you, for your boss to recognize your worth, for your friends to come around, or for your dreams to find you. But, when you’re thirsty, you realize that waiting can be deadly.

2. You can dig a new well.

Have you ever dug a well? Probably not. A post hole? Maybe. If so, you know that it’s back-breaking work. It is tempting to believe that the better option is to leave the old, dry well behind and begin anew. You could find a new spouse. New kids. (Maybe not.) New friends. A new job. New hopes and dreams. In fact, this is the approach most people take. But those who have dug new wells would tell you that it’s not worth the work and that new wells also run dry. So, is there a better option?

3. You can dig deeper.

There is fresh water at the bottom of the well from which you’ve always drawn. It may be only a few inches or a few feet deeper. But, it’s there. When dry seasons come, don’t wait for circumstances to change. Don’t waste your time and effort digging a new well. Dig deeper!

What does it look like to dig deeper when the well runs dry?

You dig deeper by relying more fully on God, seeking him in times of silence, Bible study and prayer. You dig deeper by taking an honest appraisal of your thoughts, fears, habits, perceptions, and misconceptions. You dig deeper by gathering closely with the people you love and reinvesting in them. You dig deeper by listening closely to a trusted group of peers who see you for who you are and who are willing to speak truth into your life.

When the well runs dry—whether that well is a relationship, career, dream, aspiration, or otherwise—dig deeper by trusting in God and taking one step at a time as he leads.

Is your well running dry? What would it look like for you to dig deeper?

Responding To Change

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A wise man once wrote:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace, (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

Life is rhythmic. Change is a constant. Seasons change. Babies grow up. Prized possessions tarnish and break down. Friendships cycle through changes. Viewpoints shift. Minds change. Hearts get pulled in different directions. Passions fade only to be replaced by others.

In my mind, there are two main postures I can choose to embrace toward change. I can be a tortoise. Or, I can be a caterpillar.

When a tortoise sees a threat, he simply withdraws into the safety of his shell. And, even when he’s not faced with impending doom, he’s not really moving that quickly to begin with. He’s moseying along. He isn’t preparing. He isn’t taking personal inventory. He isn’t surveying the horizon. He’s just thinking about his next meal and trying to stay out of trouble, valuing stability and security.

Change is intrinsic to the caterpillar. It’s part of her nature, her DNA. She spends her days munching away on green leaves. She’s preparing, gaining strength, looking for a great place to build her cocoon. Then, when the time is right, the process begins. Sometimes I wonder if the metamorphosis is painful for the caterpillar. Her entire body changes: old parts are discarded, new parts form. Then, the struggle. She twists and turns, strains and heaves. Then, eventually, the first ray of light pushes through the cocoon, she forces her way out and she is free. She’s an entirely different creature ready for an entirely new kind of life.

I want to be a caterpillar.

I’m in a season of change. I really want to embrace the fact that this is a part of life. It’s more of an opportunity than a threat. And, in the end, it may be more of a blessing than a curse. I believe there are four things that I must keep in mind—each a necessary part of the formula—while going through this season of change.

1. Rest.

It is time to slow down. Not just tap on the brakes, but pull over to the side of the road, put it in park, turn off the engine and lean back in the seat. I’ve been given a gift and it doesn’t include 50-hour weeks, early mornings, late nights, worry, responsibility and deadlines. I have to seize the opportunity so I can …

2. Take stock.

It is a time for prayer, Bible study, quiet introspection, writing in a journal, blogging, long talks with Kelly and discussions with friends. It’s a prime opportunity to take stock of who I am, how God has wired me, what he has prepared my family for, what the world needs, and how I can make an impact. I have a chance to be prepared to …

3. Step into the unknown.

I’ll be the first to admit that stepping out into an uncertain future is scary to me. I like comfort and security. (I tend toward being a tortoise at times.) But, this is a chance that I wouldn’t have been afforded if not for the previous season coming to an end. What is next for me? I’m not sure; but I’m excited to find out. Until then, I must …

4. Remain faithful.

I’m sure there will be both good and bad days. There will be days when I long for the security I once had. I’m sure that Satan would like nothing more than to use this as a way of gaining a foothold in my life. But, I know that if I cling to God, we’re going to be absolutely fine. And, like the caterpillar, I might be stunned at what’s just on the other side of this season of change.

Sure, like Solomon advised, I’ll take time to weep, uproot, tear down, heal, mend, be silent and make peace. Then, I’m so excited to begin planting, building, laughing, dancing, embracing, searching, speaking and loving.

It’s all good.

God’s in control. Change is a part of life. And, I’m excited to see what it brings!