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Whether or Not to Leave One Ministry for Another: Lessons from Moses

Deciding whether or not to leave one ministry for another can be difficult, to say the least. It’s a decision that requires discernment, godly counsel from others, and time before God in prayer. Especially if one is a pastor, it means giving up one’s joy and crown in one church (i.e., the people themselves) in order to go to another (cf. Phil 4:2).

In my own life, there were multiple factors that brought me to my present church:

  1. A desire to preach and lead a congregation according to God’s Word (cf.1 Tim 3:1)
    As much as I loved my previous church and pastor (and still do!), I had a desire to do more than assist a lead shepherd in a local church.
  1. The recommendation to do so (cf. Phil 2:19–22)
    My pastor had asked me at an earlier point about putting my name in to candidate at another church, but my working on a degree didn’t leave room for a transition at the time. I knew that getting to know a new church was more important than finishing a degree, and I would be forced to delay if not drop the degree altogether. However, once my education started to wrap up and knowing that my lead pastor previously wanted to recommend me elsewhere, it seemed appropriate to look for a church now that the time was right.
  1. Finding the right “fit”
    After looking for another church and not finding what I (or they) believed was a good match, I was so frustrated that I actually planned on staying where I was as an assistant. But then God brought a match my way.
  1. The providence of God
    After closing several doors, God opened one up, making it clear for me that He was leading in this matter and not me (cf. Prov 16:1, 3, 9). The longer I’ve been at my own church and considered how God puts people where He will in the stories of Scripture, the more convinced I am that it is best to let God make a transition clear instead of searching for a new ministry.

I realize that no two situations are alike and that mine is not a perfect template for others. I also realize that, yes, there are times when a pastor realizes that he should move on, even when another ministry is not waiting for him at the time. But what I’m getting at for the moment is this—don’t leave a ministry because it does not seem to live up to your personal expectations or because your personal ambitions cause you to see it as a mere rung on the ladder in rising to so-called ministerial success.

Along these lines, I think we can learn something from Moses.

When Moses was “forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel” (Acts 7:23 ESV). “To visit his brothers” meant rescuing them from the oppression of slavery in Egypt. Moses was so zealous about this rescue that he killed an Egyptian mistreating an Israelite (Acts 7:23; cf. Exod 2:11–12). Maybe Moses’ zeal stemmed from the timing of God’s promise—Israel was 390 years into her time in Egypt, and Moses likely knew that Israel would come back to her land in 400 years (cf. Gen 15:13). But, at the end of the day, even when Moses “supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand…they did not understand” (Acts 7:25 ESV). Representative of Israel as a whole, an Israelite “thrust him aside” and challenged his desire to be Israel’s “ruler and judge” (Acts 7:27 ESV).

If you’ve ever searched for a ministry or been a pastor for some time, perhaps you understand Moses’ disappointment at that moment. He wanted to serve, he wanted to help, he had zeal, and he was rejected by the very people that he thought needed him the most.

Applying these thoughts to the topic at hand, we might say that he wanted a ministry to God’s people, but the circumstances showed that, while Moses’ desire to rescue Israel was commendable and even biblical, it was not time for him to do so. Putting it into a walk-away statement for us today, we might say this:

Sometimes we desire to transition to a new ministry, but God has other plans.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, but God knows best.

On the flipside, think of Moses forty years later. When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, He told him that he would finally do what he had wanted to do forty years earlier—give Israel salvation by his hand—“Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exod 3:10 ESV). But now, Moses was full of excuses and even angered the Lord with his response—“Oh, my Lord, please send someone else” (Exod 4:13 ESV). In the end, however, Moses obeyed and had a glorious God-given ministry, one like none other in Israel (cf. Deut 34:10–12).

Moses’ call and ministry were obviously unique in many ways. At the same time, in considering what we can learn from him as it concerns ministry transitions, perhaps we could say this:

Sometimes we have no desire to transition to a new ministry, but God will unexpectedly grant us both the desire and transition.

In this instance, God is the One making the transition clear.

As God was with Moses, so also He will be with those who obey Him to serve His people as He desires, whatever the result may be. If nothing else, one result will be a reward for the one who faithfully serves Him, however small or great a ministry may be, however many ministries that may be, and whatever that ministry may be in the eyes of men (cf. Matt 25:20–23).

Should you move? Should you stay?

For anyone trying to answer these questions, take in as much information as possible in order to make your choice. Gather wisdom from godly counselors. Pray about it, specifically that the Lord would make your way clear. In learning from Moses, maybe what you think you want isn’t really for you. And maybe as you wait upon the Lord, He will grant you desire to keep on keeping on in your present ministry or bring something else your way in His perfect timing.

Whether you transition or stay and whatever the task may be, “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established” (Prov 16:3 ESV).

David Huffstutler

About David Huffstutler

David pastors First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL, serves as a chaplain for his local police department, and teaches as adjunct faculty at Bob Jones University. David holds a Ph. D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His concentration in Christian Leadership focuses his contributions to pastoral and practical theology.

3 Responses to Whether or Not to Leave One Ministry for Another: Lessons from Moses

  1. I can understand moving from an assistant position to a lead role, but I’m wondering why senior pastors leave.

    Currently serving in a pastor search committee (and questioning the wisdom of that process, too) and so many resumes mention “thriving ministries” but that the applicant feels “the Lord has released me from serving here” or feels “a call from the Lord to go elsewhere”, sometimes also stating things like “my work is done here”.

    Although a few mention disagreement with congregations about applying Biblical principles, most mention reasons similar to the statements above.

    In light of God’s call and example to faithfulness, I’m questioning how these pastors believe that God is moving them to leave their flock. I want to believe the best and realize that I could be missing some biblical principles here. Can you shed some light here? Thank you.

  2. Hello Patricia – I was wondering if this kind of question might come up. :)

    It’s hard to give a general answer that applies to every pastor’s situation, but I’ll try to answer your question as best as possible. I should also clarify that I’m not the expert on the matter, especially when trying to guess at the motivations and circumstances of other pastors.

    When I see a comment like “the Lord has released me,” to be honest, I’m not even sure what that might mean. If it were me making a decision to move on or not from a ministry, I can know God’s Word on the matter, ask for counsel, pray, and make what I hope God desires for me in doing His will, but shifting from knowing that the Lord has “bound” and then “released” me from a ministry seems to walk close to having a prophetic word from God on the matter, which I do not believe is for us today. I would simply ask the one making that comment, “What exactly do you mean by that?”

    Also, to “feel” a “call” to go elsewhere sounds a bit murky as well. In my theology, it is God who does the calling by leading a church to extend a call to that pastor. He’ll feel it when he actually gets it and no sooner. “Feeling a call” just sounds like “I want to leave” to me.

    For both of those comments, it sounds like these men desire to move on, are convinced that biblical principles applying to their situation confirm for them that this is the proper desire, and they are therefore acting on that desire.

    From a pastoral perspective, as to “how” God moves them to leave their flocks, I can only speculate, but I’ll give a couple of thoughts:

    I think men sometimes have expectations for what their congregations should be doing as a church, and they become frustrated when those expectations are not met. So, they say things like what you mentioned (“my work is done here”), feeling that their leadership is being rejected. If that is why someone is choosing to leave his church, I would simply encourage him to tarry on, letting God move His people through the Word, rather than trying to excite them towards his own goals, even if his goals are biblical.

    Sometimes a pastor makes some poor choices and learns from his mistakes, but he has damaged his credibility as a pastor at his current church. In having gathered some wisdom the hard way, sometimes it is best for him to move on and have a “fresh slate” where he will hopefully not repeat his mistakes and thus have a more fruitful ministry.

    Half of me wonders if “thriving ministry” is meant to be an eye-catcher for a resume, but God is the judge of an expression like that and not me. :) And perhaps a pastor has indeed raised up the church to be a strong ministry, knows that it could carry a younger pastor into a continuing, fruitful ministry, and he simply desires to be a blessing to another church in the same way.

    For just a quick biblical note on moving around, while they were not pastors, Timothy and Titus functioned very much in those roles and moved around to various flocks in the NT. If the Bible allows for that kind of thing, I am hard pressed to say that God does not move men around today as He sees fit. The difficult part is both the church and potential pastor making it clear through hours and hours of communication that God would indeed be in approval of moving one church’s pastor to be the pastor of another church. (On discerning the Lord’s will, I would point folks to Kevin Bauder’s recent series on the matter on this website.)

    I think the best advice I could give is that, if carefully done, a pulpit committee can be a help to a church by connecting the church with a candidate to be the church’s pastor. But the pulpit committee has some difficult work to do in getting to know a candidate. It’s like dating—you’re getting to know someone and figure out whether or not to get married, and you’re trying to anticipate the day-to-day reality of what life will be like together while realizing he is putting his best foot forward. If possible, look for a seminary graduate who is assisting a pastor at another church and desires to be a leader pastor and comes well-recommended. But, the Lord leads in other ways too, so that’s not a one-for-all solution.

    Please forgive the lengthy reply. I didn’t mean for it to be so long, but it meant touching on multiple topics—God’s will, God’s call, a pulpit committee, and churches trading pastors. :) May God give you folks grace as you find a new pastor!

  3. Thank you so much for the detailed reply! I greatly appreciate it and had been hoping for such a reply. Some of your concerns mirrored my own and your other explanations were scenarios I hadn’t considered. Thanks again and blessings to you!

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