Should a Pastor Ever Decide to Leave His Church?

Editors’ note: 

For more reading on long-term faithfulness in ministry with practical wisdom from veteran pastors, see Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People for a Lifetime from The Gospel Coalition.

In this video, Don Carson discusses ministry transition and motivations for change.


The following is a lightly edited transcript provided by a transcription service. Please check video before quoting.

In my case that’s a bit complicated because I’ve left two or three times to do two or three different things. I was pastoring a church in Vancouver and left to do a doctoral studies in Britain so from my point of view I was not leaving pastoral ministry I was simply taking a hiatus to study a little longer.
Eventually through complex circumstances I ended up back in Vancouver where I was pastoring a church on the side but also teaching in a small college and seminary and then when I left there I moved down to Chicago and ultimately took up a teaching post at Trinity.
Since then I’ve never been a full-time pastor but I’ve often done a lot of pastoral work so it’s not as if I was leaving to go to another church nor was it leaving so that I could become a computer scientist. From my point of view I was leaving one form of pastoral ministry, namely the primary pastoral ministry that takes place in a local church, to join a situation where I was devoting myself primarily to the training of pastors. So in that sense it was a bit unusual, the way the Lord called me to make those changes was not suddenly it was through a number of circumstances, the experiences of life, challenges from people who saw my interests, and this element or that element.
The one time that I almost left Trinity to go somewhere else was not to go to another seminary or back to university but to become pastor of another church. And then I had two or three senior saints, Carl Henry and Kenneth Kantzer, who descended on me like the voice of the Lord and told me that at that particular time they thought it would be a mistake for me to do that, because they thought that what I was writing was urgent enough that I shouldn’t do anything that would reduce that output. Whether they were right or not, who’s to say, that’s a question for the Lord to answer in eternity.
But it’s not as if I’ve ever thought of myself as abandoning pastoral ministry but switching from a primary focus on the local church to a secondary focus on the local church by the means of training others for the local church.