One of the most common questions I receive from others in ministry is about discerning whether to leave a ministry position. I’ve written about this subject a number of times, because I know all of us deal with it at some point in our journey.
The question which should follow close behind, but I rarely receive, is how to actually leave a position well. I am grateful when I receive it.
Here’s one I received not long ago. I’ve omitted a few details to protect the identity, but you can get the intent of the question.
I am writing you seeking counsel regarding a significantly large decision my wife and I need to make about our continued service at a local church. The church is in turmoil and my wife and I feel released from our commitment here. Leaving is probably the best option, but how do I know for sure and how do I leave “properly”?
Good question. It’s honorable to want to leave well – and, it’s the right thing to do.
Leaving is never easy, but many times, even in the worst situations, it can be done in a way which doesn’t further disrupt the church.
Obviously, as with the previous posts, you need to discern first if you definitely feel released to leave and then if you are leaving. It may not be worth putting the energy into deciding how to leave until you decide that you are. But, if God is releasing you or sending you elsewhere, I think discerning how to leave is equally important.
Here are 7 suggestions for leaving “properly”:
Make it a decision of prayer and conviction.
The more you can remove your personality or personal comfort from the process, the more likely you will be able to convince people you are leaving on good terms and you are following God’s will and not your own. (I realize I set this up as a pre-determined, and as I mentioned previously, it may be God has released you to make the decision. I find this true many times. Your first step, in my opinion, is to make sure you aren’t violating something God has told you to do or not to do.)
Have critical, initial conversations.
Before you even announce – maybe before you even solidify you’re leaving, I suggest you discuss with and seek wisdom from one or two people you trust – preferably people who know you and the church. You’ll need a sounding board to help you confirm your decision, but also to help determine the timing and approach of your exit. They will almost always see things you can’t see.
Give as much lead time as possible.
The sooner you begin preparing people for your eventual exit, the easier your exit will be accepted by people when you do leave. Help cross train for your area. Identify key leaders who could fill in for an interim. You don’t even have to share all this information, but be thinking ahead of time who those people might be. Start making lists of things you do that others may not know. Think in terms of “if I’m not here, then…” and write some of that stuff down to share when you leave.
Develop a plan.
With counsel and prayer, put together a plan of how and when you intend to proceed. You’ll need to decide who to contact personally before the big announcement, when to contact them, and how to tell the church. This will likely be different for every church, but it’s critical there be a plan.
Regardless of why you’re leaving, don’t throw punches on the way out. There’s never a win and often a lasting negative when a person lashes out in the final days of their involvement with a church. Any credibility gained can be quickly lost based on the way the person handles their exit.
Protect your emotions.
It is likely to be hard leaving, even if things are miserable at the time. Chances are you’ve invested your heart in this church. You started with vision and enthusiasm. You felt a call to go there. Regardless of why you are leaving or what you are going to do next, it won’t be easy walking away from something you have loved. Know there will be an emotional process involved. As soon as you give notice, people will begin responding. People may say things untentionally on the way out which hurt you – because they are dealing with their own emotions. Also, work to protect spouses and children – as they will have emotions of leaving also.
Don’t end when you walk out the door.
This is huge. Be available to further assist them as needed in the months after you leave – even to “train” your replacement. It may not be welcomed or needed. And, if you’re leaving injured it may hurt, but genuinely offering is the graceful way to exit and the right thing to do.