When (not if) we are faced with leaving a ministry, as staff or volunteer, it is vital that we do so in a manner worthy of the God we serve. Period. What I have learned over the past 25 years is that we can leave well or not well.
Leaving a ministry is part of being in ministry. Every exit is different, unique in it’s details, but there are similarities. Here are 4 tips on leaving well in ministry:
1, Don’t make promises you won’t/can’t/shouldn’t keep
For example, “I’ll come back and visit” or “you can call or email me whenever you want.” People will cling to these statements emotionally and be hurt again in the future when they’re not fulfilled. If you’re planning to visit again next year or vacation or something, that’s fine, but don’t tell them just so they will feel better. Do your best to make it a clean break for the sake of the ministry and the next person who takes the position.
2. Never bad talk anyone especially if you’re leaving with tension.
You don’t have to support various decision and people, but don’t tear the ministry apart even further just so you feel like you’ve had the final say and you got your revenge. Leave with grace.
If you are not the senior pastor but an associate pastor and leaving due to a moral failure of the senior pastor or some other lack of integrity, apply Matthew 18.
3. Pass the Baton
When leaving a pastoral position do everything you can to ensure a smooth transition. Every new leader will do things differently but I do like to leave a notebook including everything I can think of that I would have appreciated having when I was new. This includes giving a list of names and phone numbers of people in your ministry as well as computer pass codes, mailing labels, etc.
When I left the college pastor position at UCSD we had an end of the year banquet/party and I praised the incoming staff and told the students how much they would love he and his wife. I communicated excitement about him and this began to prepare the way for the new relationships.
Before starting as college pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church Pastor Tim Elmore preached a sermon on women in ministry and spoke of our relationship which helped prepare the way for my arrival.
4. Once you leave, it’s hands off.
Don’t contact people to see if you’re missed or entertain those who contact you to continue with some follow up complaints. And when a new person takes over and people contact you about how different it is (because it will be) always encourage them to be positive and support the new leader.
You may not know where you are going next. You may be clueless, without any leads. No matter what you know, you have to trust that God will take care of you. This trust might be with your finances, with your job, with your reputation or something else. Regardless of what happened (good or bad, right or wrong), God is bigger than the situation. God is bigger than your worries. God is biger than your bills. God is bigger than everything. He will take care of you. It may not always be comfortable, but God will provide.
Maintain level of integrity that will bring glory to God.