Did you ever play Pickle as a kid? You know the game—the one where you run between two bases while the baseman tries to throw you out. There were always some kids that would never leave the security of the base; there were others that ran at the slightest flinch from the baseman. As a mature believer, it occurred to me that neither of the aforementioned strategies would work for us as we consider when it is time to move from one assignment to another.
In 2005, my wife and I walked through this process as we successfully left our position of ten years, as founding Senior Pastors, to work in another ministry. The following principles and process that I will share do not make the decision and move any less painful, but knowing that you are doing the right thing makes it easier.
The foundational principle is based on Romans 8:14 which states, “because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” As sons of God, it is our privilege to be led of God and have Him order our steps. To the degree that we believe that He sees the big picture of His Kingdom, it is easier to believe that He has a plan and knows where to best place one of His ministry assets—you.
Keep in mind, being led of the Spirit is more an art than a science. By this I mean that being led is centered on a relationship with Him. Once I was walking in a mall with my kindergartener who desperately wanted to go to the toy store. As we walked, he held my hand—which warms the heart of any father. Once we were within view of the toy store, he released my hand and bolted towards his destination. The lesson that instantly came to mind was the importance of walking hand-in-hand with Father God, even when the destination is in sight. He desires a relationship with each of us on a deeper level than most of us realize. Nor is the relationship about seeking a “sign;” Matthew 12:39 says that “an evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign”—sons seek relationship with Him.
With this said, let me share some stories and principles from our lives—not to glorify us, but to demonstrate how God has led us.
1. Word of God
First of all, there is the Word of God (Psalms 119:98,104,105). This, of course, is obvious to each of us, but the key is being in the habit of always obeying the Word, even if it doesn’t make sense to us. Surely Joshua didn’t understand how the walls of Jericho would fall; he only understood that the obedience would bring the victory.
Secondly, the Lord guides us through impressions. In Acts 16:6-7, Paul and company were on the road to Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit “would not allow them” to go ahead. I doubt that this was a road block or a detour, but an impression in Paul’s spirit. Experience has taught me that not all of us have the same kinds of impressions. Sometimes we “hear” something as the church leaders did in Acts 13:1-3. On other occasions we can “feel” that God is moving us as He did with the prophets of old (2 Pet. 1:21) and other times we see things from dreams as with Peter’s vision (Acts 11:5-7). The important idea is that we learn to know His voice (John 10:4). Our move involved two of these impressions. I felt that my time was up, and one morning I heard that an opportunity (our current assignment) would be offered to me that same day—and it was.
3. Prayer and Fasting
The opening of this opportunity led me to the third principle; prayer and fasting (Acts 14:23). Fasting seems to be pretty un-American these days. As I surveyed about fifty pastoral peers, most of us only fast an average of two-thirds of a day per month. Fasting helps you die to your fleshly desires and focus on His Will. Once as I fasted, I heard the word “Mexico.” This set the course for my ministry among the Hispanics as a missionary and church planter and helped me to avoid decisions away from Spanish ministry. Your fasting can be before, after, or during your time that you seek God, but it is important that you do fast since fasting helps you distinguish between the “I desire” and the “He wills.”
4. Peace of God
The fourth principle is found in Colossians 3:15 which states that you should let the peace of God govern your heart. Let me mention another childhood game—you remember, back before Xbox 360. Did you every play the “Red Light, Green Light” game? When “it” would say “red” you would stop and when “it” said “green” you could run. The key to success and neighborhood domination was to figure out when it was yellow, on the verge of being green. The peace of God is your signal light. If you feel no peace, slam on the brakes. The choice to leave a ministry is a hard and tearful decision, but you can have peace that even though it hurts, it is still right. Remember that confusion is certainly not of God, and confusion and peace are normally incompatible. Seek the peace of God.
5. Timing is Everything
The fact that timing is everything is principle number five. Just because you know you need to go, doesn’t mean it is now. Look at Acts 1:4; the disciples had the promise, but not the manifestation of it. If they had launched out before Pentecost, the early church would have had a fraction of the power that Acts describes. Henry Ford made a fortune selling the Model-T, but today there is not a single Ford dealer that carries them. Why? Timing. It just wouldn’t be good business. Again, experience shows that being in a rush or in a hurry usually is not God either. I find that I can’t be in a hurry and spiritual at the same time. Once we decided to go, we had another set of questions to seek God about in the area of timing.
6. Submission to Authority
Submission to authority is something that most leaders struggle with, but it is principle number six. God uses our authorities to guide as He did in Nehemiah 2:4-5. I always check with my spiritual mentors and leaders before I make a decision of great magnitude. When I have disobeyed, it cost me. If you are looking to make a move in the ministry, it is helpful to find a mature believer that is outside your circle of influence. Don’t ask your head usher for advice on whether or not you should move. His answer will be based on his emotions and how much he likes you today or whether you did a good job on his daughter’s wedding. Before we moved, I called an old college buddy who is also in the ministry. He was in a different denomination, different state, and was able to give me a different point of view. I also spoke with a few mentors and my father. Each of us has a different governmental situation, but you get the idea.
7. Seek His Purpose
Finally, we must gather the puzzle pieces. As I write this, my youngest is watching “Blue’s Clues,” a TV show where an animated dog leaves his paw prints on things and the human character has to put the clues together to figure out the message. Ephesians 1:8-9 lets me know that God has mysteries that He reveals to us, but it comes in bits and pieces. We must gather wisdom and prudence, discover the mystery, and seek His purpose to ultimately unwrap His Will. That is how we left our previous assignment to move 450 miles to our current mission. Of course it would be easier if God just sent one of His angels to write it on the wall in crayon, but don’t die waiting for that.
Just last week I was talking to a couple that felt like they were at a dead end and wanted to leave their post. They knew that God had more for them and didn’t feel like they were magnifying Jesus to the max. However, they just couldn’t see how it was possible for them to go since no one was there to take their place. Let me close by illuminating a misconception. If you think that you are the only one that can do the job you are doing, you are wrong. Elijah thought he was the only prophet left on earth; the Lord let him know that there were hundreds more that could do the job. There are most likely qualified people that are just sitting back and waiting for an opportunity. My replacement is doing a fantastic job—and if I’m really honest, in some ways he is doing a better job than I was doing. Thank God I got out of the way.