8 Hard Lessons I Learned From Leaving My Job and My Church

Three weeks ago, I did something very un-American. I resigned from my position at the church where I worked with no leads and no idea what was next.

It’s funny how God works. Two months ago, I celebrated my 30th birthday. I thought my 30th birthday would be a landmark year, professionally, a launching point to something great. But God had different plans. Rather than launching, I’m still on the runway. God wasn’t finished teaching me hard lessons about my weaknesses and amazing truths about his character.

I want to share these lessons with you. This post isn’t about my former employer. I mean this. I’m so thankful for the time I had there. I built friendships that will last a lifetime. I watched college take huge strides in their relationship with God. I learned so much about myself.

This post is about the lessons God taught me. And, ultimately, I hope the lessons God taught me will help you. Here we go.

1.) God is your source of income, not your employer.

Tiffani and I prayed and fasted over the decision to resign. We were at peace about moving on but continued to get hung up on the financial thing. After all, we own a home. We have two young boys. If I resigned, I couldn’t call my mortgage company and get them to put a hold on payments.

The church was our source of income. What were we going to do if I resigned without a plan for paying the bills?

Then one of our mentors said something that changed everything. “This church isn’t your source of income. God is. He is simply using this church to fund you. If you are confident God is calling you to leave, he will find another way to provide for you.”

Wow.

Here’s what I want you to know. God is responsible for your income. Organizations, businesses, churches, and individuals are simply a means for God. You must remain faithful to God’s calling, not your pay check. If God calls you to go, you must go. And, I can promise you this. He will provide. You might have to adjust your lifestyle. You might have to make sacrifices. But never forget that God is your source of income.

When you lose sight of this, you become enslaved to your employer.

I have heard more than one story of a minister or businessman who refused to leave a job even though the situation was toxic. If you refuse to leave a job because it will require you to change your lifestyle, who are you really serving?

Trust God. He will provide. Always.

2.) Make sure your passions and vision align with your employer.

Whether you work at a church, school, or business, philosophical and cultural fits are two of the most overlooked factors in hiring or accepting a job. In churches, I would argue they are almost as important as theological fit.

Do your passions, vision, and goals align with your potential employer? Does your philosophy of ministry align well with the culture?

Here’s the bottom line: I resigned because God made it obvious that I was a bad fit. It wasn’t a matter of theology. My vision for ministry was different from the leadership. My passions and goals for ministry didn’t align with theirs.

Understand your gifts. Know your passions. Take personality tests. Get a grasp on your leadership strengths. When you apply for a job, ask those interviewing you questions about their vision, how they engage the lost and serve the community.

You can agree with everything theologically, but if you don’t fit in other areas, you will be peeing in the wind.

3.) When it’s time to go, God will release you.

How will you know when it’s time to go? I’m seriously not being a jerk when I say this, but you will just know. God will release you. Not only that, but everyone who is for you and led by the Spirit will confirm your release.

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When Tiffani and I thought we were released, we called at least a handful of people we trust, explained the situation, and asked them to pray for us. A day or two later, we contacted them again. And we heard some variation of the same response. They all said it was time to go.

If you’re a pastor or church leader and you don’t have people in your life who care more about you than your platform, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

I am so thankful for the small circle of people who love Frank Powell the man. They don’t care about Frank Powell the preacher, blogger, or teacher. They want what is best for me.

I know many church leaders with no friends. But I also know this. If you aren’t willing to put yourself out there, be vulnerable, and let people know you have real problems, you will never have friends.

You can’t make it without people in your life who care about you.

4.) Be careful what you preach. God will ask you to back it up.

This is an important lesson God taught me the last three weeks. Don’t ask others to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. It’s the mantra of leadership.

For years, I challenged people to take risks and trust more in God than their abilities. And, to be honest, I wasn’t practicing much of it. God called my bluff.

Well played, Big Man. Well played.

If you follow God long enough, he’s going to test you. God challenged Abraham’s comfort by asking him to leave his family. He challenged Noah’s logic by telling him to build a boat when it had never rained. He challenged Moses to work from his weaknesses by talking to Pharoah even though he wasn’t an eloquent speaker.

God might not ask you to quit your job, but you better believe he will test your comfort and logic.

5.) Don’t devote your life to A church. Devote your life to THE church. 

Can I keep it real? Ministry is hard. Life is hard. I hear stories often about pastors leaving ministry because they were burnt by another Christian. I wouldn’t for a second dismiss the pain those people experienced. But I would say this. Don’t lose hope in the church because of one self-centered Christian. Don’t lose hope because of several self-centered Christians.

God restored my hope in the church the past three weeks. Five years ago, I dedicated my life to the church because I fell in love with Jesus. And I wanted to serve his bride for the rest of my life.

People are going to hurt you. You will hurt other people. As a leader, you must set the example. Don’t lose hope in THE church. Fight cynical temptations. Resist bitterness. It’s hard. I’ve been wounded more than once by Christians. But my hope isn’t ultimately in people.

My hope is in the risen Savior, Jesus Christ, who sits at the right hand of God. Because of Jesus, I believe in the church. I pray you will too.

6.) It’s okay to express anger, sadness, and frustration. You are not a robot. 

When I resigned, I was angry, frustrated, and sad. But I felt like I needed to be strong for my family and friends. I knew this decision was hard, but I thought acting like Mary Poppins would convince them we were ok.

So, even though I was struggling, I suppressed my emotions. After all, I grew up in a “real men suck it up and don’t cry” culture.

Fast forward three weeks to last Sunday. During worship, a college student asked me to pray for him. He expressed that he felt spiritually dry and lifeless. So, like a good minister, I prayed for him. I thanked him for his authenticity, gave him a hug and sat down.

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The moment my rear-end hit the seat, I lost it. Like a total break down. The last time I cried like that was when I watched The Notebook. I still cry every time I watch it. Stop judging me.

Why did I break down? I couldn’t hide the hypocrisy any longer. The emotions I buried for three weeks poured out. And here’s the beautiful thing about the way God created us. As the anger, frustration, and pain poured out from my heart, joy and peace flowed out too.

You see, when you bury negative emotions, you also bury positive ones. In other words, if you bury pain from a divorce, frustration from a failed test, or anger from being fired, you also bury joy and peace. No wonder so many pastors are burnt-out and joyless. We’re told to press through the pain. We believe being authentic means we are weak, and leaders can’t show weakness.

I’ve decided to take a different approach moving forward. It’s called the “24-hour rule.” John Maxwell talks about this in Good Leaders Ask Great Questions. Whether it’s a huge win or a heart-breaking loss, process your emotions for 24 hours, good or bad. Then, move on.

You must be real with others about your emotions. Express your pain, anger, and sadness. Your joy and peace depend on it.

7.) Don’t wallow in regret. Don’t start (or engage) gossip. 

Regret is an appalling waste of energy…You can’t build on it; it’s only good for wallowing in. Katherine Mansfield

Regret destroys potential. Wallowing in your mistakes is never from God. Regret is the language of Satan. God calls his people to remember the past and learn from their mistakes. But God never calls his people to live in the past.

Neither should you.

In the days after my resignation, I felt the temptation to swim in regret. There was no moral failure. But there were some things I could have handled better. Most of all, I believed I was letting down some students I love deeply. But as the days progressed, God pressed me towards the future and away from the past.

When God releases you, allow yourself to be fully released. Don’t engage in gossip. Don’t spread rumors. Don’t worry about things beyond your control. Remember, God doesn’t need you. Never has. Never will. He’s got this. Learn from your mistakes. But don’t live in them.

8.) Keep your eyes fixed on the future. The best is yet to come!

Keep your eyes fixed on the future. Fight for hope. Don’t allow current circumstances to cloud you from seeing future opportunities. Keep fighting. Keep moving. The best is yet to come.

I have no idea what tomorrow brings, but I know the One who holds tomorrow. I refuse to lose hope. I believe the greatest miracles and the best days are the ones I have yet to see.

If you’re hurting right now, I feel your pain. If your life seems like it’s crashing down, I understand. Set your eyes on the cross. The darkest day in the history of the world was that Friday Jesus gave up his life. The future looked grim. But the worse day in human history gave birth to the greatest day…On Sunday, Jesus walked out of the tomb. Alive.

If you’re going through a “Friday” experience, remember that Sunday has the last word, not Friday. Sunday’s coming for you too. I believe it.

I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!

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