Q & R: leaving a ministry

Here’s the Q:

My question is “Is it possible to know the right time to leave a ministry within a church? And how do I state my reason for leaving by being true to myself but not wanting to hurt the leaders of that ministry?” Several of your books and blogs deal with ministry but not sure where this would be addressed. My husband and I pastored a church for 15 years and know the heartache that comes when a parishioner decides to leave a ministry. The pastorate can be a lonely place when folks decide to leave for one reason or another. The hardest to hear sometimes was the phrase “God led me to leave” because we felt that honesty was rarely shared as to the reason for leaving and left us guessing as to what we may have done wrong that led them to leave. I am part of the music ministry and the pastor would like us to move away from songs that “exalt the emotions and not Christ”. He’d rather we sing from our head not heart, more hymns less choruses, songs must be supported by scripture, no impromptu songs, music must be timed and we can’t go over the allotted time, wants music that is masculine not feminine, and on and on. He doesn’t articulate what this really means though and when asked he generally lists songs of preference/non-preference. This is an issue that has gone on for years and I have always complied with the pastor’s rules but am feeling like I am not being true to my God with these constraints. For me, music from the heart is not something to be avoided and emotions are not necessarily bad. Are there any guiding principles for when to leave a ministry (not due to abuse, fatigue, busyness, etc) and how to go about presenting that without hurting people. Thank you for any guidance. I have all of your books and look forward to the next release. It takes a lot of courage to speak up like you do. Thank you.

Here’s the R:

First, God bless you for your important work. It’s obvious you put your heart into it (and your head too!) …
It sounds like you’re thinking about leaving the music ministry, but not the church, but it also sounds like there’s a disconnect between you and the pastor that might lead to your leaving the church too unless it can be resolved.
Here are some suggestions …
1. Meet with the pastor in private, without talking to others, and tell him how you’re feeling. Be honest … and use feeling words: I’m discouraged, I’m afraid I’ll do the wrong thing, I feel my gifts aren’t appreciated, I feel out of sync,” etc. But don’t use blame words – “You don’t appreciate me, you’re controlling,” etc.
2. Tell him you’re thinking about pulling out of the ministry and ask if he agrees that would be the best thing. If he asks you to stay, explain that you don’t think you can unless you can arrive at a better understanding and way of communicating. See if he’s willing to work with you.
3. If he agrees you should pull out, then thank him for the chance to serve and explain to others that you needed a break and that you and the pastor agreed it was the right time for a change.
4. Whatever happens, make it your highest goal to speak the truth in love – which is different from speaking falsities (like “God told me to leave”) in love, or speaking the truth (“I think the pastor is a control freak”) in anger or hostility.
I know that in my years as a pastor I felt a lot of pressure about “how worship went,” and I often passed that pressure on to the worship leader, so I was the control freak … Looking back, I wish I could go back and do a lot of things differently. Your email reminds me that we all need a lot of grace in church ministry … that we’re dealing with multiple expectations, all the while trying to serve and honor God … and that we often need to take a time out, so to speak, and remember that God’s yoke (unlike the expectations of our fellow worshippers) is easy and his burden is light, and that we’re all really trying our best to do what’s right, even though we often muck it up terribly.