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For me, knowing when it’s time to leave a church ministry position usually starts with one of two things. We talked about the first way, inner restlessness, in Part 1 of this article. Today, we’ll look at the second way God gets our attention at times–through circumstances around us.
Circumstances like these are almost always beyond our control:
-Changes in leadership
-Attitudes of others
When we’re faced with things we can’t change or control, we need to remind ourselves that what’s out of our control is always under God’s control. We must remember that these circumstances didn’t take God off guard; He allowed them to happen for a purpose.
Didn’t See It Coming
Have you ever said to yourself, “Well, I sure didn’t see that coming”? That’s how it often feels with outward circumstances. Sometimes we don’t experience an inner restlessness; sometimes we don’t have the luxury of feeling or sensing a change in advance. Instead, God uses circumstances that seem to hit us out of nowhere to get our attention.
Below are a few examples of people in the Bible who most likely did not see coming the outward circumstances that would change their lives. When these circumstances occurred, they had a profound impact on the perspective and ministry of these individuals.
-Joseph didn’t see it coming that his brothers would throw him into a pit and sell him into slavery.
-David didn’t see it coming that he would be anointed king of Israel.
-Stephen didn’t see it coming that he would be elected as the first-ever deacon.
-Asaph didn’t see it coming that he would be promoted to head choir master in Israel.
-Joseph didn’t see it coming that he would help raise and be the earthly father to the Messiah.
-John didn’t see it coming that his exile to the Isle of Patmos would lead to his writing Revelation.
Unanticipated circumstances can be happy times. For example, a young couple discovering they’re expecting a child is a happy circumstance. Maybe it wasn’t something they planned for; yet they’re glad when it happens.
I remember being in full-time worship evangelism, traveling 40 weeks out of the year with Scott Dawson, and enjoying ministry on the road. We were seeing thousands come to Christ year after year. But then my wife and I began to have children, and at the birth of our second child, I knew it was time to come off the road. It was the pleasant circumstance of having young children that caused me to realize I didn’t need to be gone so much from my family; I needed to be a good father and a good husband. That was my first priority. Through that wonderful circumstance, the Lord led me to stop traveling full-time and take a local church ministry position.
Choosing to Trust
More often than not, though, circumstances are not so happy. For example, Joseph had a very unhappy circumstance when his brothers betrayed him and threw him into a pit. He was sold into slavery and later imprisoned for years, left alone and forgotten about. Those are all cruel circumstances that could have made Joseph turn away from God and become bitter.
In every circumstance we have a choice: It can either make us better, or it can make us bitter. For Joseph, what he was subjected to made him better. He knew that what people meant for evil, God meant for good (see Genesis 50:20).
I went through a change of leadership at a local church ministry once. It was definitely an outward circumstance that was beyond my control. The pastor who had called me to come to that church, the pastor whom I’d bonded with and shared vision and heartbeat of ministry with, suddenly resigned. His leaving left me reeling and wondering what was next. The pastor who came after him did not see eye to eye with my philosophy of worship ministry. In fact, we didn’t see eye to eye on many things. As a result I had to leave. That difficult experience could have left us feeling like a victim. We could have become bitter over it, but we were able to choose the high road because ultimately we knew God was in charge.
Romans 8:28 is clear: “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Notice the qualifying factors in that verse. First, we must keep our eyes on the Lord and love him through every circumstance–like Joseph did and like Paul and so many others in Scripture did. They never took their eyes off the Lord no matter how hard their circumstances were. Secondly, we need to remember that we’re not called according to a pastor’s values and vision; we’re not called according to some church’s by-laws or preferences. We’re called according to His divine purpose for us. What people may mean for evil or for good, God intends for our best. He always works our circumstances together to make us better. We can believe and rest in that.
Out of the Nest
Whatever your circumstances may be, evaluate them in light of eternity, in the light of God’s perfect will. Is it a circumstance you can work through in your current church ministry, without having to compromise your beliefs and your values?
Perhaps your recent circumstances are God’s way of saying it’s time for you to leave, to step out on faith, and see where He will take you next. Perhaps it is His way of pushing you “out of the nest,” so to speak–so He can teach you to soar with eagles and fulfill His calling on your life.
An old song by the Imperials has encouraged me so much over the years. It says, “He didn’t teach us to swim to let us drown; He didn’t bring us this far to let us down.” That’s the truth; hold tight to it. Love the Lord and walk according to his divine purpose for your life–then trust Him to work through your circumstances to show you your path and to show others His glory.
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