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A Leader and Pressure

By Dan Rieland

If you have served as a local church leader for any length of time, pressure is no stranger to you. You can’t escape it. Pressure comes if you are successful. Pressure comes if you fail. Pressure comes even if you coast. Pressure and leadership is something like calories and doughnuts, they always go together.

These economic times dish up plenty of pressure. Many of my XP (Executive Pastor) colleagues have talked with me about the difficulties they face due to shortfalls in income. They have cut ministry budgets, leaned out all expenses, and always the most difficult, they have let staff go. That is pressure.

You may be experiencing relational pressure. Perhaps you and a board member or a staff member do not see eye to eye. Or you may be facing a general unrest of the congregation over the style of worship, support of a missionary, or what you do and don’t do in your choices of ministries. That is pressure.

Some of the greatest pressure comes connected to the overall direction of the church. What is the vision? Where are you headed? Why? How will you get there? Hey, churches split over this kind of stuff. That is pressure.

Pressure can come in the spiritual realm. First there is the obvious – spiritual warfare itself. There is an enemy, and he’s not happy about your Kingdom progress. In fact, the more ground you take, the more attention you get from the forces of evil that come against any Christian leader who is serious about the redemption of souls. When you are on mission, in the name of Jesus, and for the sake of His Kingdom, your ministry will not be calm or easy.

We can all agree in general with Ephesians 6:11-12: “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

The stakes are large and the pressure is huge. There is another form of spiritual pressure. It’s much more positive but nonetheless pressure. It involves the aspect of correctly discerning the voice of God to lead your people well. It might be a sermon, a discipleship process or a leadership lesson. Whatever the case, your ability to have the confidence that it’s more Holy Spirit than human spirit (yours) is a big deal. That is pressure.

How you deal with pressure as a leader really matters. This topic is very subjective. Your personality is a factor, each situation is a factor, and there is no one right way to handle pressure every time. However, there are ways of responding to pressure that are poor choices. I have described three of these for you. I will also offer another set of three that are mirrored choices of a similar nature but reflect the positive and productive way to handle pressure.

1. Withdraw and hope it goes away

Whatever the situation is, this leader withdraws, and perhaps prays, (a good thing,) but that’s it. “Jesus, you know the situation, please just take care of it.” That is a legitimate prayer, but rarely does God allow us to lead by asking Him to wave a magic wand and we do nothing. Withdraw to pray, that’s good. Jesus modeled it. But He also got right back in the mix of things. I believe that’s what a leader does. When a leader withdraws and hopes things just get better, or that someone else handles it, things usually get worse and thereby increasing the pressure.

If you are uncertain of what to do or how to handle the situation, always pray first and seek wise counsel, but take action. Retreating from the pressure of a difficult situation only makes it worse.

2. Get aggressive and conquer

Aggression often wins the battle, but also loses the war. You may power over people and they bow to your position or personality, or even surrender out of loyalty and relationship. But when you resolve a situation like that, people are hurt and their memories are long.

Even in the most difficult situations aggressive behavior usually doesn’t help. For example, let’s go back to the financial pressures that churches are facing. There are several ways to cut budgets, but no budget-cutting method is popular. There will be resistance, if not out-right opposition. If you win your way through outright forcefulness, even if you truly believe your solution is in the best interest of the church, you have lost influence with many who follow you. The problem gets bigger and the corresponding pressure increases.

3. Secure social-political alliances to support you and reduce pressure

This option is simply the process of gathering people around you who agree with your point of view and support you in a way that helps you shut down resistance and or get what you want. This method of handling pressure seems like a smart idea, feels relationally acceptable, and often gains the quickest short term relief. But over the long haul it’s a bad idea. Whenever you take short cuts in leadership, it’s easier in the moment but backfires on you in time.

Positive and productive options:

1. The art of ignoring

I talked about the negative counter-part of the art of ignoring (withdrawal). The leader that chooses that option pretends the issue doesn’t exist, and therefore the pressure isn’t real or felt. This is a strange, but not so uncommon leadership behavior. I suspect that if you think about some government leaders, both past and present, you could quickly come up with a few examples. The same thing happens in the local church.

There is, however, a positive and productive side. I call it the art of ignoring. As a leader, you can’t respond to every complaint or fix every issue that comes up. You can’t emotionally keep up with the pressure that comes with attempting to do everything or even crazier, trying to make everyone happy. Even though the noise is loud and the pressure mounts, there are some things you need to ignore. The art is about making the right choice about what to ignore. Those choices make the difference between a successful leader and one who is soon looking for another church.

When you choose what to tend to and therefore what to ignore, go with the things that align closest to your vision, the things that produce momentum, and the things that create a positive culture. (A positive culture is not the same as making everyone happy.) If you tend to those three things many of the problems and corresponding pressures take care of themselves. And what is left probably doesn’t matter.

2. Power-up with purpose

On rare occasion you have no choice but to add some emotional fuel and force of personality to the mix. There is a right and a wrong way to do this. It’s not unlike parenting. There are times when Mom or Dad needs to speak up with authority and say “This is how it’s going to be.” If however, mom or dad does that in anger, even starts yelling, most of the positive and productive influence is lost. Even if the child complies, they are often only doing so on the outside. They are just waiting for the chance to behave against your leadership.

I certainly don’t mean to suggest that you are the parent and your congregation consists of children. That is not the case. But it is a good illustration. So on those rare occasions when you must be strong, here are some things to remember. Make sure you’ve prayed first, don’t power-up in anger, do know how your decision aligns with the vision, be truly convinced it’s in the best interest of the people, and be willing to take full responsibility for your decision.

3. Develop team alignment and strategic vision support

The negative counterpart is political and short term in nature. This option is strategic and reflects long-term thinking. They can look alike to the rookie leader, but they are very different.

They both gather people for support, but the former gathers only fans and this option gathers strong leaders who love and support you but will speak up and tell you the truth. They will say no if they need to. The best leaders will also provide other options for you.

They both seek a certain agenda, but the former will sacrifice the long term win for a short term gain, and this option insists on the discipline of the long term vision.

They both prefer harmony but the former will accept peace over productivity and this option will embrace conflict if it serves the higher good of the overall vision.

I hope these thoughts are helpful to you. Not so much to remove pressure, because frankly, that will never happen. But in hopes of offering positive and productive ways for you to deal with problems and the pressure that comes with them.

“This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland’s free monthly e-newsletter, “The Pastor’s Coach,” available at”

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Senior Pastor – Leading from the First Chair

by Dan Rieland

It seems like I should be writing more on the responsibilities of staff members, if for no other reason, the raw numbers. But curiously, more Senior Pastors have been recently talking to me about the core of their role and responsibilities.

One church planter said, “I’m doing literally everything, that can’t be right.” Another pastor told me he wants to study the Word, teach and do nothing else. Yet another pastor who has a great staff, confided that he won’t delegate and empower basic roles to his team.

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like you are leading from the “First Chair”. Between the board, staff, parents of teens, choir, first time visitors, benefactors, and local officials (and on it goes) you may feel more like the caboose than the engine. It is however, not only possible for you to truly lead, it’s at the core of your job to take the reigns and go for it. Responding to all these people and their agendas can take you off track. You can lose sight of what your job is. My hope is to encourage you and give you fresh permission to lead. Not to make everyone happy, but to lead. You can’t do that if you are running on everyone else’s agenda. You need to know what your job is and stay ruthlessly focused on it.

Your personality and unique passion contributes heavily to what you choose to do and how you choose to carry out you role and responsibilities. The culture and community of your church have a significant influence as well. In some churches, the local church board has a strong say in what the Pastor does. In other churches there is so much freedom that the freedom itself presents its own set of complications.

Every leader is different and every church is different, but there are some basics that hold true for all. There is more than one way to lead from the First Chair. This article does not attempt to offer the unique nuances that are just for you, but the baseline that you build upon so you can arrive at a unique job for you without compromising the basics. Here’s the list of basics. I trust they will help you stay on track.

Call upon God

Your non-negotiable responsibility is that of chief intercessor. Your whole church prays, but you lead the way. It is unlikely that many in the church pray with more zeal and commitment than you do. You set the pace. It’s not that your prayers are more spiritual or God listens to you more, but there is something deeply sacred about the office of Senior Pastor. It’s not a power thing, it’s about calling. God chose you to lead your church and frankly, God has stuff He wants you to know. Your uniqueness is not as much about how you pray, or even what you pray. It’s about what you hear. That’s the key, hearing the voice of God. I don’t think there is anything more important. Everything starts with God’s direction for you and your church. Hearing His voice often and clearly is essential. What is He saying to you today?

Communicate the Word

For most Senior Pastor’s this is the fun part. You can’t wait for Sunday! There is a grind and discipline to the preparation and the “every seven days” nature of it all, but what a cool thing! You get to teach, literally, the Words of God!

Unlike your prayers where your words are very important, but not critical, now every word counts. And The Word, counts even more. On any given week, these thirty or so minutes, (the “or so” covers a lot of latitude for some of you!) may be the greatest public work you do. You can’t overestimate the need and value of your preparation. If you are a gifted communicator, please, you still need to prepare. The same is true for those of you who aren’t as gifted – if speaking isn’t your sweet spot, go shorter rather than longer. Wrap it up in twenty-five minutes. Your church will immediately think you just got better.

Cast the Vision

This is where direction for the church and your leadership kicks in. You are the primary vision-caster. Great vision is collaborative in its execution, but not so much in its origin. More often than not, God speaks to a man or a woman, not a committee. The team matters huge, but God sends the dream to the leader and the team helps the dream come true. This is not to infer a dictatorship. Leaders can “hear” incorrectly. That’s why you need other trusted leaders around you to test what you believe God is telling you. But when it’s settled, cast vision and lead. That’s what you’re there for. Leadership. The people are counting on you to point the way.

What if you don’t have a sense of direction from God right now? That happens. My best advice to you is to call your church to stay focused on core activities of the Great Commission (Matthew 28 – Evangelism and Discipleship), while you and your key leaders seek the mind of the Lord for the specific direction.

Carry the Stewardship

Let me be blunt, the church needs money to move forward. We don’t like to say it, read it, and sometimes even admit it. It doesn’t sound spiritual, but it’s deeply spiritual. Scripture is very clear about our hearts and our treasures. In that way it’s not as much about money as it is about priorities and passion. It’s not as much about money as it is calling and commitment. Money reveals the depth and maturity of your church and their level of buy-in to the vision.

Pastor you cannot escape the reality and responsibility of raising faith and raising funds for your church. In contrast to “preaching” most pastors don’t like this role, and either partially ignore it or attempt to have others cover it. That never works well over the long haul. Pastor, embrace the biblical nature of what giving reveals about the maturity of your congregation. And if giving is down, especially in this economy, don’t be upset with your people. Instead, ask yourself what you can do to make the beauty, power and promise of God’s Word more evident to your people. In other words, how can you better inspire your people to embrace God’s Word?

Create the Culture

Many can help you carry this out, but you set the scope and direction. Every church has a culture. It’s either the one you want or the one that created itself. I’ve never seen the later go well. You can cultivate and guide it or just go on its own and land who knows where.

Whether your culture is casual or formal, local or global, traditional or edgy, mercy or justice, caffeinated or decaf, you need to know you who are and be yourself. There is no right or wrong. Well, the only wrong is to not know who you are or pretend to be something you’re not. An interesting experiment is to ask visitors to describe your church culture to you. They often see it more clearly than you do!

Coach the Staff

If you are in a mega-church environment, you may have an XP (Executive Pastor) to coach the staff for you, but most of you who are Senior Pastors carry this responsibility as well. This is what I do so there is great danger of me writing for pages! I will discipline myself to hold back!

Let me just say that you have primarily two avenues by which to invest in your staff: Nurture and Leadership Development. Everything else falls into the large category of “getting stuff done.” There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you want a world class team scoring large in competence, character and chemistry, investment is the key. Let them know you care and give top quality leadership training on a consistent basis. If you do this well, month after month, year after year, I promise you it will make a huge difference.

Cultivate the Community

Last but not least, its time to leave your office and get out into the community. I know, after the first six, it’s easy to feel like there is no time left. The good news is that you don’t need to give huge amounts of time to this, but you do need strategic time. Cultivating the community includes your personal evangelism, connecting with key leaders in your county, and a general awareness of what is going on outside your church. A few hours a week can get this done pretty well. The cumulative effect is powerful. Keep out in the community on a consistent basis and though not immediate, this will come back to you with strong results over the long haul.

I hope this basic set of responsibilities is helpful to you. Whether you are recently out of school and in your first or second church, or you are a veteran of many years, this list will hold true for you. Add your personality to it and give it 100%. Let the other leaders carry the rest of the load.

This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland’s free monthly e-newsletter, “The Pastor’s Coach,” available at”

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Leadership Relevance by Dan Rieland

The discussion of relevance is like looking at a piece of classic artwork. It’s so subjective. When my wife Patti and I toured The State Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia a couple years ago we stood before breathtaking paintings. We saw incredible pieces from greats such as Rembrandt, Monet, Picasso, Cezanne, Renoir, and dozens more. They were magnificent. Everyone had their own opinions but everyone also knew the greats from the also-rans. Leadership relevance is like that. There is much that is subjective, but ultimately everyone knows what’s working and what isn’t.

We try to package relevance and that never works. For example, I wear jeans and un-tuck my shirt. But trust me, that does not make me relevant. (My 18 year old son and 20 year old daughter remind me of that fact on a consistent basis.) You can’t buy an iPhone and become a relevant leader. I have one of those too.

Relevance is not a product. It’s not about production. It’s not about a certain way to design your Sunday morning service. If you start using a table for your notes instead of a podium while you teach, you are not instantly relevant. I know Billy Crystal said “Its better to look good (marvelous) than to feel good,” (Saturday Night Live, Circa 1985). But remember Crystal is a comedian. Yeah, he’s funny, that’s his job. Some leaders would rather look good that to be good. And that’s not funny.

Relevance isn’t about program or systems. We stopped calling first time guests not because “no one does that anymore” but because of the size and scope of our ministry. We stopped because of new ways to contact people online that are more effective with people who are drawn to a large church. In smaller church environments, calling first time guests can be highly relevant. In the case of program and systems, quality is relevant. Doing what you do extremely well at the right time with the right people is relevant.

Irrelevant leadership means what you do doesn’t matter. Irrelevance is when you work hard and just spin your wheels. Nothing changes. That’s irrelevant. Church leader, please get this, if you are leading people to Jesus and their lives are being changed, you are relevant!

At its core relevance is about connection. There are some things that help you connect and therefore increase your relevance as a leader. There is so much that could be said here, but let me just get things started. You can increase the list of ideas on your own.

Embrace technology

My mom died at age 66. That was in 1997. While going through her papers I found that she had recently signed up to take her very first computer course. She “messed around with computers” in the travel agency she owned, but that was back in the “DOS days” and she had someone do that for her. She never really jumped in. It just wasn’t her thing. But somehow, even in her mid to late sixties, she knew that to make a difference in business she had to become computer literate. It’s not about the computer however, its what you do with it.

It’s not about the iPhone. It’s what you do with it. Leonard Sweet would say I’m an immigrant when it comes to technology. My kids are natives. I’ve learned how to use the tools, it’s a way of life for my kids. You don’t need an iPhone to Twitter. As an immigrant, I didn’t jump on Twitter immediately, but when I saw how it helps me connect, I was in. (Follow me on Twitter: @DanReiland) I had to experience it to understand it. My kids were impressed. Although my daughter says, “Dad, you have to quit stalking me on Twitter!” Now that’s funny, I don’t care who you are!

Jump on Facebook and Twitter because it helps you connect with people. It helps you communicate. It helps you stay in touch. And you can do so at the speed of light with huge numbers of people. That’s relevant.

Listen to young leaders

If you are a twenty-something, this goes for you too. You need to listen to your friends and peers.

I led a small group a couple nights ago at Andrew and Jennifer’s house. They are a sharp young couple who lead a small group of about 8 couples. So there we were, all huddled in their living room after eating egg salad and tuna fish salad sandwiches. Andrew led in worship and I taught on the topic of Spiritual Gifts at their request. We had a great time. All that was wonderful, but the highlight of my evening was talking and mostly listening before we started. Listening, learning. Getting and staying connected. That is relevant.

I recently wrote about listening to young leaders, especially those on your staff. Just because they are young doesn’t make them relevant. In fact, young leaders can be very irrelevant. But young people are the closest natural link to relevance because they are the closest connection to the future. That is relevant.

Be really good at what you do

I’m often asked if church choirs are relevant. Choir or no choir is not the issue. Whether or not the choir is good or bad is the issue. If the choir is bad, its irrelevant! It’s irrelevant because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t accomplish anything. No one’s life is different. In fact, a bad choir can be worse than irrelevant, it can kill a worship service. If people cringe in your worship experience, praying for a power failure so the microphones quit working, that’s irrelevant. On the other hand, I listen to hot choirs that truly inspire people and lives are transformed. People connect with that. That is relevant.

You can’t do everything, so do what you do really well. Less is more. It’s better to extend your global mission efforts to one country and make a difference than fifteen countries and barely make a dent. That’s relevant. It’s better to lead a children’s ministry that the kids love and can’t wait to be there than to have cool videos and have the kids be bored. Cool videos may be part of genuine connection and relevance for you, the point I’m making is that relevance isn’t in the video, it is doing what you do well so that you connect.

Figure out who you really are

It’s important for you personally, and for your church corporately to be self-aware, but let’s just talk about you. Know yourself. Be yourself. Get comfortable with that. When people sense a genuine spirit about you they can connect with you. That is relevant. You may not be the best leader, but if people like you that’s a start. Not everyone will like you, but people will like you best when you are yourself.

I’m not suggesting that you don’t have to grow, change and improve. We all do. I’m suggesting that it’s very difficult to grow, change and improve if you have not given yourself permission to be you. You only have so much energy. Don’t burn it all up trying to please everyone and replicate “stuff” you think is relevant.

I’m not suggesting that everything you currently do is relevant. I am saying that one of the first key steps is to get freed-up so you don’t lose sleep worrying about what people think. Just be yourself and do your best. If you do the things that matter, and people’s lives are changed by the power of Jesus Christ in your ministry, you are relevant.

“This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland’s free monthly e-newsletter, “The Pastor’s Coach,” available at”

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Before You Leave (Part 2)

By Dan Rieland

Thousands of people leave their churches everyday. Your church is no exception. Right now, someone is thinking about leaving. The curious thing is that the majority of those who leave, and go to another church, discover that it, too, falls short of perfection.

In part one of this article, I talked to the pastors who are considering leaving their church. I’d like to talk to you who are not pastors but are members, regular attenders, or active at some level in your church. I want to talk with those of you who are considering leaving your church. If you are in anyway unhappy, unfulfilled, questioning and or considering leaving your church please keep reading. Or if you know someone like this, forward this article.

Stories abound of people who leave their churches. Some are devastating stories of deep hurt and pain. If you heard them you would struggle to believe that Christians were involved. There are always two sides to the story, and in all cases both sides believe they are right. This isn’t something new. It’s just a smaller and slightly more civil version of The Holy Wars fought long ago. They may have been long ago, but the word crusade still fits. When people add religion and righteousness to their own agendas we end up with a dangerous combination. Each side believes they are right and God is backing them. Even when they know they are behaving like a two-year-old, or something closer to the devil, the “cause” justifies the actions. The topics are clear enough, such as church finances, decision-making, ministry-programming, vision, and issues of confidentiality. It’s when it gets personal that things go ballistic.

Not all topics are so serious, in fact some seem comical. Once again you wouldn’t believe that sincere Christ-followers are involved. But they are and they leave their church over such issues. I could write for pages on these stories. I love The Church so when I tell you some of this, it only fuels me to dig in, fight harder, and lead better! How about you? Do you want to leave or make your church better?

It’s a true story, several people left their church in Texas over the choice (brand) of (free) coffee served. A number of people left a beautiful new church in the Southeast because they opened a coffee shop in the church and charged for coffee! (Everyone knows that coffee should be free for all Christians everywhere, all the time!) Let’s move off the coffee theme. People left a large and well known church because parking lot attendants told them where to park. I would love to be one of those guys for just one Sunday so I could tell a couple people where to park it! Another church actually fired the pastor over a fight about whether to put chairs or pews in their new building. I was in a small church that fought over what kind of plants to put out in front of the church. And they used Bible verses to back their opinions! We smile in disbelief, but quietly our hearts break. Here’s the thing, these stories seem stupid until you are the one in them. Then its real and its personal and you get mad and you consider leaving your church.

I would like you to consider these following questions before you leave your church. I have already admitted that I love the local church, so you know my bias. I believe in the church. I’d rather you not leave. Ultimately you will make your own decision. But trust me, why you leave (and the way you leave if you do) makes a big difference. And here’s the key, the difference it makes in your life is bigger than the difference it makes in your local church.

My goal with these questions is not to tell you what to do. I want to get you thinking and praying as much as possible because your church matters.

Is your church meeting your spiritual needs?

Are you growing in your faith? How do you assess that? Ultimately who do you consider responsible for your spiritual maturity, you or your church? If you are a young Christian (new to your faith) your church needs to take great effort to invest in you deeply. If, however, you have been a Christian for some time, you need to mature to a level of “self-feeding” and begin to serve others. At this point your church meets your spiritual needs by helping you find a place of meaningful ministry and training you for that ministry.

Do you have warm and vibrant friendships in your church?

Christianity is not a social club, but it is relational in nature. Friendships are important. Not so much for “parties and socials” (though they are fun!) but for community and an opportunity to express authentic faith. Are you reaching out to meet new people? Are you making invitations for others to be part of your life? Do you sense a healthy give and take with your relationships?

Do you sense a heart within you that is quick to worship?

When you attend church are you excited to worship? Do you quietly prepare yourself to give your heart to God in those moments or is it just part of “doing church”? What motivates you to worship? Do you arrive on time? Do you consider it the worship team’s “job” to get things going or your opportunity to jump into worship with your whole heart?

Are you on purpose or are you on personal?

This is an important question. If you have concerns about your church, do your concerns involve issues that are core to the purpose or mission of the church? Are your concerns at the epicenter of reaching people for Jesus and raising them up in their faith? Or is it more about something personal that you are passionate about? It is more about style and method than actual ministry purpose and the big picture vision of the church?

Have you used water or gasoline?

If you are frustrated about something, have you poured water or gasoline on the issue? In other words, if you were to see the issue that bothers you as a fire, and you can either make it better by throwing water on it, or make it worse by throwing gasoline on it, which are you doing?

Have you spoken with the appropriate leaders?

If you are convinced there is an issue that is core to the mission of the church — are you a water-carrier or a gasoline-thrower in relationship to your leaders? Have you talked to the appropriate leader? Talking with anyone who will listen to complain or gossip doesn’t help anything. If you have a concern, go to a pastor and talk about it directly. This conversation doesn’t commit your pastor to any certain path of action, but if nothing else, you can keep your relationship right.

What is your track record as a church member?

When you look back at previous churches you have attended, what is your pattern? Were you at each church for a long time? Were you giving and serving? Did you make good friends? Did you leave for “natural” reasons such as a relocation, or did you leave upset about something?

Do you see your church as primarily a place to give or a place to get?

Ultimately a good church is a place for both giving and receiving. However, where you place the emphasis really matters. I typically encourage Christians to see the church as a place that 51% or more is about giving. As in all relationships, expectations make a difference. If you expect the church to do the majority of the giving, you will undoubtedly be let down, and for good reason, that is not a biblical pattern.

If you leave, what do you want in your next church?

We all know that there is no reality in the greener grass syndrome, except in our minds. The church is certainly included in that principle. There is no perfect church. So, before you leave think about what you hope to experience in your next church, that you are not experiencing in your current church.

Perhaps you have excellent reasons to leave and in fact the Lord has prompted you to go. But make sure you know what you believe will be better and why. What is it about your new church that will be so different? And if in a certain area(s) the new church is better to you, what about the areas that will not be better? Did you make a wise decision, or did you just trade problems from one church to another? What if you were to stay at your church and become part of the solution?

I know there are times when leaving is the right answer. But far more often staying is a better answer. Not with hopes of getting your way, but to become a team player who cares deeply about the mission and is willing to sacrifice personal rights and privileges for the greater cause.

This is a sensitive topic and I don’t presume to specifically know what God wants you to do. But I do know He wants you and all of us to protect the church and do all we can to make it healthy and strong.

“This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland’s free monthly e-newsletter, “The Pastor’s Coach,” available at”


Before You Leave (Part 1)

by Dan Reiland

Making a change from one church to another can be the healthy, right and God-directed thing to do. I want to stress in part one of this two part series that it’s important to leave at the right time in the right way. I want to talk with you, as a pastor, on life and ministry before you leave. Part two will deal with life and ministry before a church member leaves.

Pastor, sometimes it’s difficult to know how and when to leave. Let alone discerning the right reason. Obviously, if you are fired, most options are eliminated and leaving on a high note is a challenge. But candidly, it’s done all the time. Even under adverse circumstances you can still leave well. For the good of the church, through a series of mature conversations, both parties agree to a resignation and a win-win is created. That is the best route if a termination may be inevitable.

There are other troubling circumstances that make leaving difficult such the case with a church is meaner than a junk yard dog. These churches are sometimes called “Pastor Eaters.” The church extends an invitation with smiles and apple pie — then chews the pastor up and spits him out. Believe or not these churches exist. I hope you are not at one, but just in case. They are usually run by a church boss who intimidates everyone. (Or sometimes the church is run by a few key families who have been there for a very long time.) If you start to change too many things, or gain too much influence, you may be out. The amazing thing is that the often near evil tactics of the church boss are tolerated by the rest of the church members! The members say things like, “Well, the pastor will leave in a couple years any way and I’ve been friends with Harvey (the church boss) for 30 years!” My advice is to leave as fast as you can. Those people will have to account to God one day. So shake the Bermuda from your loafers and seek a congregation that wants to see the Great Commission come alive! If you must, take a secular job for a short time. Better to enjoy life and your family rather than be held hostage by a “mean” church.

More than the difficult church settings, I want to focus on getting clarity on leaving a normal and healthy church. What should happen before you leave? I’m referring to the many churches that you and leaders like you may serve where things are going anywhere from okay to good and even great.

Because there are literally limitless numbers of possible scenarios, I will pose seven questions for you to ponder and answer. If you cover these well you will have the insight you need to leave at the right time in the right way. Or perhaps discover that you should not leave at all.

Have you given 100% of your effort and energy?

Every church deserves your best shot. Have you worked smart and worked hard? Be careful not to get sidetracked with “stuff” on the side. You may have freedoms to teach or write or consult or whatever, but always keep your church in first position. Make your church your priority. When time constraints become tight, cut the “outside” stuff for a season. Your freedoms may be of a different kind, like how you use your day. Going to the gym, having lunch with your wife and seeing your child sing in the school play are all good, but don’t count them as work time.

Here’s my point. Don’t leave if you haven’t given it your all. You may be surprised at the difference in results and get excited about staying.

Do you have a sense that you have completed what God sent you to do?

What were your dreams and visions when you came to the church? Have you fulfilled them? Are you happy with the results of your leadership? Is there more that you know you can accomplish?

There is a difference between restless and finished. As a leader, you may be restless, but you need to finish well. If you haven’t truly landed a clear vision, you owe it to yourself (as a growing leader) and to the church to stay until you at least give it a try. I promise that if you fail at your best effort for the vision, that is so much better than succeeding at mediocre same old — same old Sunday after Sunday ministry. Safe feels good in the moment but it’s empty in the long run.

Are you leaving the church in a good financial situation?

These are tough economic times in which to make this a reality. But even now you can lead in smart and prudent ways to keep the church in a stable financial position.

You may be sensing a stir within to leave, but if six more months or so of your consistent leadership would strengthen the church’s financial position, then staying may be the right thing to do.

Paying down debt, finishing a capital campaign, completing a building project, or even smaller things like refinancing a key loan in the church can make a big difference in your legacy as a pastor. Maybe just preaching a strong tithing series, whatever it is, be sure you have done all you can do.

Are you considering leaving because you are tired or frustrated?

We’ve all experience the Monday morning blues where we’d take nearly any call that comes in for a new church. That’s not the time to go. The steeple may be taller and the pay may be higher, but the grass is never greener. Every church environment and culture has its challenges. It’s true that some have more than others, but this side of heaven there is no perfect church.

You may just need a good vacation. Get some rest. If you’ve been there for more than ten years, perhaps a short sabbatical is in order. It’s amazing how that can change your perspective. Something as simple as relaxation can give you great clarity on leaving or staying. And if you are to leave, it helps you leave with the right spirit.

If you are frustrated about something, or perhaps you are under a lot of pressure, try bringing in a consultant to help you think through the issues.

Are all relationships, as far as it depends on you, in peace?

Don’t leave if there are relationships that need to be cleaned up but you don’t want to do it. You will regret leaving relationships undone. Not everyone wants to be at peace with you. That’s not your responsibility, but for all those where peace is possible, you take the lead and get healing, harmony or at least agree to disagree. If you are to leave, it’s such a breath of fresh air to know that you love the people and they love you.

Have you discussed this with those in your inner circle?

What do those closest to you think? Is this the right time? Would you be leaving the church in good shape or at a low? What does your spouse and key advisors think?

Ultimately you must decide, but never make this decision rashly or without counsel. Too much is at stake. Leaving the right way or leaving at all is a big deal. It’s a major stress in your life and the life of your church.

Again, are you able to lead your church to the next level but just don’t want to because you want something new? If you can take it to the next level, and the people will follow, it is likely that you have another season in front of you at your current church.

Do you have a clearance from God that you are released from your ministry?

This is the bottom line. What does God say? If He says go then go. But candidly I have found that if you can’t answer the kinds of questions above with ease and integrity, you may be listening to yourself more than God. I don’t mean that harshly, I would just hate to see you make a move when it wasn’t time, or if you haven’t done what you need to do.

Of course there are other things for you to consider before you leave, but these will get you well on your way to discovering the answer and doing it the right way.

“This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland’s free monthly e-newsletter, “The Pastor’s Coach,” available at”

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