By Mike Juntunen
Anyone who has served God in ministry or in the secular work force for any length of time will eventually face this question: When is it time to leave my current assignment? My wife, Nancy, and I have served as pastors and missionaries for over 43 years, and even though we are not going to officially retire, we are leaving our current position to enter a new phase of ministry. Below are some of the questions we considered as we contemplated this change. These questions could be referenced when making any transition in ministry, including retirement.
1) Have you finished your assignment?
When we went to Hungary to serve as the directors of INSTE, a distance education course geared to make disciples and develop ministry leaders, there were certain things that we were asked to accomplish, and the same was true when we went to Romania. Once we were able to check those items off our “to do” list, we knew it was time for us to consider returning to the U.S.
As a pastor or leader in another area of ministry, you may not have a specific list of things to accomplish, but you do have a vision for your ministry. There are assignments you feel the Lord wants you to accomplish as the leader. Have you fulfilled that vision? Have you reached your target?
Another benchmark to consider is if the church or ministry has hit a plateau. Does it seem as though you have reached a certain point and you cannot seem to break through? There could be many reasons for this, but one could be that you have taken the church as far as you can and it is time to bring in a “Joshua” to carry it to the next level.
2) Have you trained your successor?
This is probably one area where we as leaders have been weak. Our tendency is to leave a church or ministry expecting those we served to find a new leader themselves. Unfortunately, too often they end up struggling to find the right person while the ministry languishes and in many cases even dies.
Part of our responsibility in Hungary was to identify and train a Hungarian to take over as the director of INSTE when we left. Our goal from day one was to work ourselves out of a job, which is what we did. God directed us to ask one of our INSTE graduates to become the new director, and he is doing a great job.
It has been said, “Never do ministry alone.” We should always have someone we are mentoring with us when we minister. Identifying and training our “Timothy” should be one of our main priorities as pastors and leaders. In fact, it should be a common practice for us to be mentoring potential leaders, and we should not consider leaving our ministry until that person is ready to succeed us.
3) Do you have peace in your heart?
Whenever Nancy and I make a transition, we ask ourselves, “Do we feel at peace about the move?” We want to make sure we are not making this decision because we are discouraged, defeated, or running from a problem. We want to make sure that our relationships with the people are healthy, the ministry is strong, and we are leaving with a good conscience and the blessing of the people.
This is one of those areas where you need to know in your spirit that it is the right time to leave. If you have questions or reservations about it, it may be best to wait until you receive the assurance from the Holy Spirit.
4) Do you know what the next step is?
I have always advised leaders to never close one door until another door has opened (unless, like Abraham, you have heard clearly from the Lord to go). In other words, unless God directs differently, do not leave your current position until you have someplace else to go or something else to do. Before we left our pastorate in the church in Austin, Minnesota, I had been sensing for a while that the time was coming for us to leave the church. However, it was not until the door opened for us to become the directors of INSTE in Hungary that we closed the door on pastoring the church.
When one is considering retiring, it is still good to ask, “What now?” Even though you are not in full-time ministry, there are still ways to minister and serve. Have you thought about what they might be? How can you use your gifts and skills to serve a local church? Is there a way you can bless a young pastor in your area? Think through what you can continue to do for the kingdom of God before you make the transition.
5) Have you heard from God?
I listed this as the fifth point, but it really should be a part of the entire decision-making process from beginning to end. We should never make a move unless we have heard from God and received clear direction from Him.
I know it should be obvious that as Christian leaders we want to hear God’s voice and do His will, but it is also easy for us to make decisions based on our emotions. It is possible to leave too early because of discouragement or feelings of failure. On the other hand, it is also possible we do not leave when we should out of a sense of obligation or duty; our pride tells us “they cannot survive without us.” In either case, it is imperative that you bathe the entire process in prayer, seeking God’s clear direction regarding the completion of your assignment, selection of your successor, bringing a sense of peace to your decision, and directing you to what the Lord has for you next.
About the Author
An Open Bible College graduate, Mike Juntunen and his wife, Nancy, pastored in various Open Bible churches for thirty years before being appointed as Open Bible missionaries in 2007. Mike served as the Director of INSTE in Hungary for eleven years and mentored the new pastor of the Open Bible Church in Gherla, Romania, for the past two years. The Juntunens have recently moved back to the United States, where they will begin a new chapter in their life and ministry. They have three married sons and seven grandchildren.