Timing affects everything we do in life. Learning to understand where God wants us in every season of life is essential.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “Everything on earth has its own time and its own season” (CEV).
God has a plan for the transitions in your life and ministry—whether you’re considering a move to a new church or transitioning to a new phase in your current ministry.
You’ve likely heard that I’m transitioning to a new season of my life and ministry. I’ve always considered Acts 13:36 one of my life verses. “David served God’s purpose in his own generation” (CEB). I’ve had the opportunity to serve not just one generation at Saddleback but multiple generations.
But I announced in June that it was time for Saddleback to begin looking for my pastoral successor, who will serve the next generation of our church family. Since I’ve been the senior pastor of Saddleback since the beginning, this will be an incredibly significant change for myself and our church.
I know I’m not the only pastor navigating tough decisions right now, so I thought it might be helpful to share with you my process for making this decision. I’d encourage any church leader (or lay person) to follow these five steps as they make major life decisions.
Enlist the prayer of other people.
Everything starts with prayer. You’ll never know whether the time is right for a major change unless you talk to God about it. But we shouldn’t be the only ones praying about it. The Bible tells us to enlist others in the effort. Paul describes this in Romans 15:30: “Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me” (NLT).
That’s one reason I’m writing this now. I’d like to ask you to be praying for Saddleback as we search for the church’s next pastor. We need God’s wisdom. God clearly tells us in the book of James that if we need wisdom, we need to ask God for it. So will you pray with us in this search?
Seek the counsel of wise friends.
When you’re making a major decision, you don’t need the counsel of everyone, but you do need wise friends to help you. You can’t depend upon your own perspective. We don’t always see everything clearly on our own. That’s why Proverbs 11:14 tells us, “Without good direction, people lose their way; the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances” (The Message).
To be safe and not sorry, seek the advice of the people you know—and look for the wisest among them. Proverbs 12:15 reminds us, “Fools are headstrong and do what they like; wise people take advice” (The Message).
Be quiet and listen to God’s Word.
Of course, when you’re making major decisions, you need to hear from the wisest person you know—God. You need wisdom from God’s Word during these important transitions. We all struggle from time to time with hearing God. When that happens, it’s often related to two reasons. First, you’re spending too much time plugging into other voices in our culture and not enough time being quiet. You can’t hear God’s voice because he doesn’t shout, unlike the rest of the world.
Second, you’re not spending enough time reading God’s Word. We need to stop looking for God to write his will in the clouds when he has already written it in the Bible. Psalm 119 describes what this looks like in verse 59: “I have thought about my life, and I have directed my feet back to your written instructions” (GW). We compare our lives—our past and our present—to what the Bible says it should look like.
Consider what you do best.
Look honestly at your spiritual gifts, personality, experiences, passions, and abilities, and consider if you’re in a place where you can be most fruitful. At Saddleback, we call this collection of traits your SHAPE, and it’s been an incredible tool for helping our congregation discover how God has wired them for ministry. We have an entire class dedicated to walking our members through this discovery process.
It’s a process all leaders should walk through, including pastors, to discern where and how God wants us to serve. The Bible tells us, “God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other, passing on to others God’s many kinds of blessings” (1 Peter 4:10 TLB). God gave you unique abilities to not only help yourself, but to also help others, so it’s critical that you do it well—so you can help more people!
Take the time to make the right decision.
A good decision is always better than a fast one! Don’t get in a hurry. Don’t get frustrated. God is never in a hurry. You can trust him. We live in a culture that honors and adores fast decision-making. If it’s God’s will today, it’ll be God’s will tomorrow. The Bible tells us, “It is foolish and rash to make a promise to the Lord before counting the cost” (Proverbs 20:25 TLB).
We need to let God set the pace as we’re making these important changes. The Bible tells us God is perfect. He never makes a mistake. Since God is perfect, his timing is always perfect. We have to trust him to set the pace as we make these tough decisions.