Written by Andrew Laird, Australia
Andrew works in Australia for City Bible Forum and is the National Manager of their Life@Work program which aims to help Christians connect their faith with their daily work. He is the author of two books about work, including Under Pressure: How the Gospel helps us handle the pressures of work. He is the former Dean of Ridley College’s Marketplace Institute, and he also has a background in radio journalism. He lives in Melbourne, is married to Carly, and has three young children. He’s not ashamed to admit he’s a MAMIL (Middle Aged Man in Lycra) and loves getting out on his road bike.
It’s a perennial question, and one most of us will face during our working life—when is it time to leave a job?
Many surveys reveal that the most common reason people ask this question is because they are considering career progression. Of course, there are other scenarios for wanting to leave, such as a job that is hindering our growth as a Christian, an unruly boss, or even workplace bullying. In these cases, we would need additional criteria for discerning when to leave.
But for this article, we’ll be focusing on the issue of choosing to leave to pursue new opportunities or career progression, and challenging the notion of personal happiness being our primary motivation in changing jobs.
Indeed, there are no shortage of voices telling us that, to climb the career ladder, we need to move around, get experience, and develop new skills. Remaining in the same job for 5, 10, or even 20 years might suggest the person is stagnant and can’t get work elsewhere. Plus, for the Christian person, to fail to leave might also bring with it fears of missing out on God’s will.
Then again, staying might also suggest something else—that the person is loyal and faithful, that they see projects through and are not flippant or bored easily—these are all traits an employer would want in their employees. And again, for the Christian person, these are important God-honouring characteristics to display to our colleagues.
The fact that we are even asking this question—should I stay or go—reflects a certain degree of privilege that we enjoy. Globally, those who can decide between one job, or another are in the minority. For most of the world, simply having paid work is a privilege.
I don’t raise this point to create guilt, but to open our eyes to the blessing it is to have such opportunity. This is a gift from our generous God, and so before we spend time wondering about whether to stay or go, we should praise Him for His generosity.
In most cases, the choice between two jobs won’t be one of choosing to sin or not. And that is what makes this so hard—there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong decision. But rather than feel discouraged, we can choose to see the freedom this brings. I could make a less wise decision than another (or maybe even a foolish one), but I need not feel the burden of having to make the “right” choice because this question does not fit in that category.
So, how then do we decide on whether we should make the move or not? Here are three things to keep in mind:
1. How to let love be your guide
To choose whether to stay or go is as simple, and as complex, as letting love be our guide. That is, as in all our decisions, we are to follow the example of our Saviour, who did not come to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45). In deciding whether to stay or go we don’t ultimately put our own interests and well-being first, but first and foremost our love for God and His glory, and our love for our neighbour. Selflessness, rather than selfishness, is to guide our decision.
What might that look like in practice? For one, our priority will be using our skills in ways that most clearly demonstrate the character of God in our daily work—His patience, His love, His creativity, His servant-heart, and so on.
This is not to say we should stay in a job which is making us miserable. However, as pastor and author Timothy Keller helpfully challenges us, “Just because you cannot realise your highest aspirations in work does not mean you have chosen wrongly, or are not called to your profession, or that you should spend your life looking for the perfect career that is devoid of frustration. That would be a fruitless search for anyone. You should expect to be regularly frustrated in your work even though you may be in exactly the right vocation.”
2. How you can best use your talents to serve God
Secondly, we should consider how to use the talents, gifts, skills, and opportunities God has given us to serve and bless others through our work. Our daily work is not ultimately about us, but rather it’s a place where we can love others through the very work itself that we do—to see how our output can serve and bless people.
As we weigh up the options before us, a simple question (although not necessarily an easy one) to prayerfully ask ourselves is, “Which of these options gives me the best opportunity to use the skills that God has given me in order to serve others?” I personally wrestled for many years with whether the gifts, skills, and opportunities God had given me would be best used for the good of others in my profession as a journalist, or in some form of pastoral ministry (similar skills are useful in both!).
For a season I used them as a journalist, but in another season, as I asked that question of myself (and in consultation with others), God directed me towards the work I’m doing today.
3. How to finish your job well
A third thing we should consider is not just how our work itself loves others, but how we can love the people we work with, ultimately by sharing Christ’s love with them. Relationships of trust take time to develop, and it is very hard to develop this kind of relationship with our colleagues if we are constantly changing jobs.
So, a further question to ask ourselves would be, “Will leaving this job prematurely damage developing relationships where I want to share Jesus, or will going elsewhere open up wonderful relational opportunities for the Gospel?”
I believe that if we are genuinely and prayerfully asking these kinds of questions in our deliberations about work (and seeking the wisdom of others in how we should answer them), then we should feel a sense of peace and go with it! We don’t have the sovereign knowledge that God does, and because it is not a question of sin but wisdom, if our heart is in a place where we desire to serve and love others rather than ourselves, we can feel free to make a decision and embrace it. If we have made the decision to leave, that doesn’t mean we can slack off until we start our next job. On the contrary, one way that Christians can be powerful witnesses in their daily work is by demonstrating radical selflessness before they leave a role.
Most of us will know of the colleague who has resigned and how, in the weeks leading up to their departure, they would become lazy and mentally checked out. Think of what a witness it would be if, rather than behaving like this, you choose to work even harder in the final weeks of your job! We can do this when we realise that we’re not there for ourselves, but to love God and love our neighbour. Love is our guide whether we are staying, going, and even as we prepare to leave.