There are many reasons you might leave your church: ordination; a move to be closer to family; a call to something else; budget cuts; an irate parent; a restructuring of staff; a moral lapse; irreconcilable differences of theologies; a disagreeable vestry member, elder, or trustee; health issues; a desire to be more available to your spouse; the church wasn’t a good fit; you were just helping out . . . the possibilities are endless. Here are some things to keep in mind so you’re prepared to leave well.
Discretion and Professionalism
Perhaps your departure is kind of personal. (Maybe someone else made it really personal.) Take what time you need until you can respond professionally—as if it’s not personal. You might not like, understand, or support the reasons behind why you have to go—that’s okay. There will be a time and place to let that out. (With your students probably isn’t the right time.) Craig Groeschel talks about how respect is earned but honor is freely given. You might not respect leadership’s decision, but can you honor the fact that God put you under their authority? Can you honor the reality that all your students, their families, and your leaders will remain under that authority? Think about it as if it were a civil divorce where the two sides don’t talk trash. You can’t control if they talk badly about you, but you get to choose how you’ll respond.
“Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity” (Proverbs 21:23).
If it’s your decision, it’s okay to be excited about being called to a new assignment. Brad Lomenick reminds us that:
[bctt tweet=”Identity is who we are, calling is why we are here, and assignment is what we do.” username=”ys_scoop”]
Share with leadership about your discernment process. Demonstrate what it looks like to follow God into a new season. Be honest about what you’re looking forward to. And help the church plan ahead.
Is it clear what pieces must be picked up for things to continue as normal? Knowledge and keys are power—be transparent. Which programs are expendable for a season? Do your leaders know how to get reimbursed or ask for checks to be cut? Help those who will remain know what needs to happen next. Make a calendar with them rather than for them. And while you’re helping them plan ahead, don’t make plans that will limit the next person to come.
Let people grieve. Who’s going to struggle with your absence? Are they on someone’s radar? Be intentional about your goodbyes—say the things that need to be spoken into the lives of the folks you serve.
Is there a project, trip, or ministry you’ve started you won’t get to see to completion? Find someone who will make it happen.
If you have to leave quickly, can someone cover Bible study? And what about the children’s sermon on Sunday? Tie up immediate loose ends. It shows class.
If you have more time, tie up significant loose ends. This means finding someone to take over the senior high mission trip. This also might mean lining up someone to take over the Confirmation class or finding someone to make sure the huge annual fundraiser still happens.
The Next Leaders and Your Volunteers
If you’re leaving quickly and your computer belongs to the church, leave the passwords you use to log in, to check voicemail, to edit the website, for camp registration . . . leave the passwords for everything. It’s a good idea for multiple people to be admins on your social media accounts. If that’s not the case, turn all the accounts over. If it’s your computer, push everything onto an external drive or the cloud: flyers, photos, brochures, liturgies, schedules, budgets, check requests, etc. Even better, do both. It’s better to leave too much information than not enough. Setting the next person up for success is professional.
If there’s no rush, take your time and purge redundant and outdated files—both digital and hard copies. My friend Blair keeps a “Transition Book.” He’s been filling it with all the ins and outs of his ministry from the very beginning. I’m not that organized. I do have a system, but I could be more intentional about leaving a key to that system for anyone else.
Whoever comes in next won’t need duplicate copies of release forms from the mission trip four summers ago or seven drafts of the shirt design for that trip. Let them go. You should leave information about mission agencies you’ve used in the past, their contact information, how many times you’ve used them, a few pros and cons, how many adults and students you took, how much it cost, how much you charged, where the rest of the funding came from, where you got your T-shirts made, and maybe the name of a person in the church who can give more information if needed. That should be one document—not a thick folder.
If you’re leaving your position but you’re not leaving the church, people will still bring questions to you. Kindly redirect them to the appropriate people.
If you’re leaving the church, leave it. If you keep showing up it will rip off scabs before they’re healed and will completely undermine anyone new.
Relationships with God
This is the most important one. When you leave, you might find yourself in a dark and twisty place. Never doubt in the darkness what God has spoken to you in the light. Read Jeremiah 29:11-13, Romans 8:28, Ephesians 3:20-21, or your favorite Bible verse. Your relationship with God is more important than any job.
[bctt tweet=”Rediscover who you are and whose you are—it would be a far worse thing to lose that.” username=”ys_scoop”]
Yes, you will need to find a new paycheck and health insurance. Yes, you might need to find a new home, ministry, and small group. You might need a counselor or spiritual director. Yes, it might be hard. But with God all things are possible. This season shall pass. Nurture your faith. And help anyone else struggling with the transition to find where they can go or what they can do to nurture their faith.
Teri Valente is the Youth Ministry Coordinator for the Episcopal Diocese of Delaware and the Program Director for Camp Arrowhead. She is a product of Youth and Campus Ministry and has a very ecumenical background having been formed by several denominations and and para-church organizations. She has worked for Presbyterian (USA) and United Methodist congregations and volunteered for several years with Youth for Christ. She likes elephants, pandas, traveling, music, and instagram. You can find her on social media with the super creative handle: @terivalente
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.