When can a pastor leave a church Biblically?
One of the things I think about is that we speak of a call to ministry (being a pastor, elder, deacon, etc.) as being a call. We also speak of a calling to a particular work ... and here I'm thinking of calling to a particular church. This is usually more of an issue for pastors, but even for deacons and elders it should apply.
The view of being an officer within a church or accepting a call to a particular church would seem to imply that it is God that calls, and that only God can then move the person to another church (even as we take church membership vows seriously, should we not take seriously the vows of a pastor when being installed?) To my thought, a pastor ought not leave a church, as long as he is able, until that church which he has pastored is under the care of another pastor at least his equal. If he leaves them without a pastor, or a lesser pastor, is he truly setting an example such as Christ has set? The OPC installation vows for a pastor include:
When do the duties of a shepherd include leaving the flock without a shepherd? If the congregation breaks its vows (no longer supports the pastor) then the pastor I feel is justified ... the vows are already broken. But for a pastor to choose to leave? We don't accept any gnostic mysticism in terms of what we believe for anything else, why would we accept it in terms of "God's call" to another church, when doing so would violate the vows he has taken to his present church? If a wife tells a pastor that she "knows" God is calling her to leave her husband and go to another man, we would certainly call that sin. Why do we accept this in pastoral relationships?
Do you solemnly promise that, by the assistance of the grace of God, you will endeavor faithfully to discharge all the duties of a pastor to this congregation, and will be careful to maintain a deportment in all respects becoming a minister of the gospel of Christ?
You cannot train for war in the midst of a battle. Prepare before the battle starts; if the battle is long and hard, you will wish you had.