When A Backward or Lateral Move Is Okay

3D man climbing up the ladder
Photo courtesy of iStockphoto®

Church staff members aren’t exempt from a ladder-climbing mentality. We’re not exempt from wanting more pay or recognition. We’re not exempt, but we can’t allow that mentality to drive our decisions.

As a Christian, and one whom has fully given your life’s vocation to Christ, you must pursue and prioritize that calling first, and above all else.

While living in Texas, I served a great church as Executive Pastor. However, I felt like God had a different church for me to serve. The opportunity God presented was a church in Nashville that already had an executive pastor. So, what was I to do? (Stage a coup, perhaps?)

The church did, however, want to offer me the role of “Associate Executive Pastor.” It was an executive pastor, but not THE Executive Pastor. Was I okay with the demotion? Was I going to be okay not only being a second-chair leader to the Senior Pastor, but also to the Executive Pastor?

When people asked about the new position I was leaving for, would I be okay with verbally inserting “associate” before the rest of my title?

There may be times in your ministry when God calls you to be in a place or position that seems like a step backwards, or sideways. It could mean less title, less money, less authority, and less recognition.

Sometimes it’s clearly a demotion of sorts. Other times, it may just seem that way. But either way, you’ll have to decide on the front-end if you can deal with it.

When I was making my decision, it helped me to realize that pursuing the call and position God provided me is never a demotion. I had no idea what God would allow me to do as Associate Executive Pastor. I couldn’t understand the value I’d gain in the “associate” role, and I didn’t understand how the role would unfold over time.

If you’re ever in this situation, here are a few reminders about when a lateral or backwards move might make sense:

  1. When you feel God telling you to do it
  2. When it’s best for your church
  3. When you’ve got more to learn
  4. When a new supervisor could help you develop
  5. When it gives you the best opportunity for the long-term direction you want to go

When you feel God telling you to do it – God is sovereign over your ministry career-path. Don’t fight it.

When it’s best for your church – There could be short or long seasons when your taking a different or lesser role is best for the church. It could positively impact other staff, or be a healthy financial adjustments for the church. Many people avoid these moves, by moving away from the church. In some situations that may be what needs to happen, but consider first what’s best for the church you serve.

When you’ve got more to learn – This was true for me. The associate position put me in a place to learn a lot more about the role. I wasn’t prepared to lead in THE executive pastor role. I benefitted from first learning more.

When a new supervisor could help you develop/make you happier – A move laterally or backwards could put you in an excellent seat to learn from another person. A change in scenery, a change in reporting, can give you a new perception. This was true for me. I benefitted significantly from the Executive Pastor. I wouldn’t trade that learning opportunity to have had his seat at the time.

When it gives you the best opportunity for the long-term direction you want to go – God may or may not reveal this to you on the front-end, but sometimes a pause in the ladder-climbing allows you the greatest opportunity to get where God desires you to be (and rings true with your understanding of your calling).

p.s. I’m quite confident eternity will not include name plates, business cards, org charts or résumés.

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