Pastors often leave churches. They leave for many reasons. Some leave because they have been asked or told to leave by the congregation. Other leave for another ministry. Others for another profession. I want to focus on those that leave for another ministry and how to respond to their leaving. As a pastor, I know the pain of leaving and have seen the pain leaving produces.
1. When your pastor leaves, he ought to be able to give his story. I think some pastors take the opinion that it is a private decision to leave one’s present ministry for another. That is arrogant. People need to know more about how you came to your decision and why you are departing. It helps to know that a pastor is leaving because he is called elsewhere rather than that he’s leaving because his present ministry was stifled. A pastor can do much to leave peace behind him simply by telling his story of God’s grace. Some pastors are leaving because they were stifled – be above blaming your congregation. Speak the gracious matters and leave the pain behind.
2. Staying a long time is a good practice but not always the Lord’s direction. After all, if a church fires its pastor for legitimate reasons, they believed it was the Lord’s time for their pastor to depart. When your pastor leaves, you ought to be very careful about taking an offense over his leaving. He may have little reason that sounds legitimate to you, but if you’ve trusted him to preach God’s Word to you, you probably need to trust him when he tells you the Lord Jesus is directing him elsewhere.
3. Those feelings of abandonment and sadness can actually be a sign of significant ministry. We miss those we love. If your pastor has never become precious enough to you such that you would miss him, either you or he or both are ministering too far apart. Pastors are not saviors, only Jesus saves. Pastors, however, should be significant in your life and that of your family. Don’t be afraid to love a pastor. Pastors ought not be afraid to love their people.
4. We tend to think that suffering an emotional wound is a negative. I think this is an unbiblical assumption. When we work closely together, learn to trust each other, grow in our affections for one another, and devote ourselves together to the mission of Christ, we will be wounded. So what! Paul laments the elders who sough to dissuade him from the mission. He complains that they are breaking his heart with their weeping. The mission transforms our relationships making them deeper. We have to submit our will to God’s and therein lies our peace when our pastor leaves.