One of the most common questions I’ve heard my fellow pastors ask, my staff ask, and I myself have asked is “How do I know if God is leading me elsewhere?” One of the clearest ways to know is if God speaks to you in an audible voice in the form of a burning bush, but let’s say you don’t get that, then how do you know? Well in my experience I’ve often tried to employ a number of different criteria and steps and have generally found this method to be helpful. With that said, you notice I subtitle this article as “One Perspective.” I don’t claim to have all the answers or to have a proven formula. Moreover, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but a few key essential components in my opinion to discerning the Lord’s leading. This has been my experience and my perspective. It may resonate with you; it may not. So take it for what it’s worth from one laborer in the fields to another. I also want to note that I write this from the perspective of someone serving in a lead pastor or solo pastor role, though I have often used these same questions when counseling friends or staff of mine through this process of discernment.
- What is Your Attitude toward Your Current Congregation? Let’s be frank: sometimes we are more begging for God to lead us elsewhere because we just want out of where we are. Sometimes we’ve been hurt, insulted, or just wearied from our current post that we personally want out. In my opinion, if your heart is aggravated, angry, annoyed, hostile, or anything other than compassionate toward your current congregation then God may not be leading you elsewhere.
Now sometimes God may use a situation or two to reinforce his leading elsewhere, but if this if your starting point is wanting out then check your heart and ask Him to give you the same compassion for your congregation that He has shown to you.
- Where Can I Best Use My Gifts? When I was a kid and even in seminary I was hammered over the head with “the call to preach.” The problem is that I have met quite a few men over the years (as I’m sure you have) that claimed to have “the call” but didn’t seem to have the gifts. I mean, I know Moses was a stutterer, but still, if God is calling you to something then He will most likely gift you for it. So I have found discerning God’s leading much easier when I think about my gifts rather than some vague feeling inside.
The question for you is whether God can best use your gifts in your current ministry or perhaps in another one. This is particularly helpful for guys in an associate or assistant pastoral role. I had two associate pastors in this exact situation at different times, where it was clear that they had gifts that were going to be used better in another role than the one they currently held. God had gifted them for their current positions but was starting to give them different gifts. They are both today leading their own churches and thriving.
For those who are already leading a church I would simply challenge you to discern what aspects of pastoral ministry are you particularly equipped well for and then to consider what kind of ministry or church could you best then use those gifts. If you’re passionate for building foundations and growing churches maybe God is calling you to church planting; if you most passionate and gifted in preaching and teaching maybe God isn’t calling you to a small rural church were visitation will be heavily required. You get the point.
- Is This Opportunity God’s Doing or Mine? I have a really bad tendency of just trying to force things, like maybe a repair in the house when I really just need to call a professional or replace what is broken. We can do the same thing with ministry searches. Maybe God is stirring in you and you’ve been keeping an open eye on job websites and letting friends in the ministry know you’re open. And then an opportunity or two comes available that seems to fit but fails to excite you. Maybe it checks some of your boxes but not others, and yet you’re so convinced God is leading you elsewhere that you go ahead and apply or you start interviewing, even though you know from the outset that it isn’t right.
We can force opportunities and I think we know when we are doing so. We’re often just not courageous and faithful enough to admit it. So stop and ask yourself, “Is this God’s leading or is it just me?”
- Where Can My Family Thrive? One of the things we often forget as pastors is that God desires to grow us as well as use us to grow others. We especially forget this to be true concerning our families. Maybe your current ministry isn’t bad for your family but neither is it helping you all to grow in your faith either. Jeff Iorg has a great book on this topic for you to check out, Character Leadership. Consider your wife and kids for a moment in this process. Better yet, go ask them and pray about it together!
- How is My Walk with Jesus? We should have begun here but rarely do we. Sometimes God calls us to difficult situations, cruel congregations, places where we can’t really do all we wish we could, circumstances that are hard on the wife and kids and yet we’re ok with it because we’re walking closely with Jesus and know that He wants us to be here. Rather than looking for some sort of magical equation for your future, flee to Him and focus on Him. The better we see Jesus the better we’ll see what He has for us.
Again, these are just a few thoughts. They are neither exhaustive nor perfect, but for those of you wondering about your current station or maybe counseling a friend through it, I pray they help!
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