Four Ways To Recover From A Church Break-Up

Tim Balow
June 19th, 2019

Ever been through a relationship break up? The mixed feelings of loss, transition, lost potential, and “what’s next” compound with the basic experience of “how am I supposed to feel?” Church break ups are almost the same experience between youth workers, church staff, and the spiritual community of the local church. It’s too bad that this post even needs to be written, but reality is real for a reason. It happens. It hurts. But you can recover.

I remember preparing for ministry in school and being inundated with best and worst case scenarios in classes like “Ministry Leadership and Staff Relations” and “Cultural Dynamics of Pastoral Ministry”. I wish I failed those classes so I’d have something to point to as to why I struggled through my church break-up. Alas, I didn’t. Maybe it says more about what the unknowns of navigating the challenges than a college or seminary’s ability to prepare young leaders for the challenges ahead.

Before we go any further, let’s understand some ground rules about the youth worker, church staff, and the local church:

  1. The church is a spiritual community grounded (hopefully) in Jesus as the foundation and striving to live into a vision of transformation in Jesus.
  2. The church is a spiritual community that sometimes employs people to help lead and carry this forward in a variety of ways.
  3. The church is a spiritual community that isn’t always the best at navigating the balance of the church as a spiritual community and a place of employment.

Just as a relational break up carries a lot of mixed emotions, storylines, and perspective, same goes with church break ups. Maybe you were asked to resign, fired, or you voluntarily resigned. Maybe it was a promotion to another church, or maybe it was a coup against you as a staff person. Regardless, the break up happened. Here’s four ways to think about recovering from a church break-up through a variety of contexts.

The church as a spiritual community is on a journey of growth beyond the current situation, and same goes for you.

Maybe this is just as a simple as saying “life goes on, you’ll go on, they’ll go on”, but it’s an important statement to accept. This won’t be the end of you. This won’t be your last paycheck from a church (unless you want it to be). You can grow with the experience and become a better, more self-aware, and more motivated leader on the other side.

Slander campaigns don’t look good on either side.

Maybe you’re a church that just had to transition out a staff person. Or, you are the “transitioned” staff person. How you talk about the other, both personally and professionally says more about you than anything about them. Same goes with misinformation. If you’re attempting to do image control, know that well-articulated truth doesn’t have to be fully communicated to everyone, but slanted or polished “truth” doesn’t stick for long. Regardless, find ways to honor both sides, just as you would in a relationship.

Respect space, expect hard feelings, and process accordingly.

It’s okay to have a hard time with a church break up. No matter what the situation was that led to it, accept the fact that it might take several months or even years to process all the dynamics, learn the lessons, and live into a new chapter of life. Some of the best things to do is to articulate your own recovery process (see “My Church Break-Up Recovery Process” below).

Acceptance and release of control will be key in helping you move forward

That statement could be used in any number of life and ministry situations. In some ways, some things are deal breakers, even if you want to find a way forward in a church or leadership situation. If something happened, process through it, and accept/release control to allow the situation to play out. Could a toxic dynamic be fueling a break up between you and the church? Absolutely. However, you’re not in the place to control/change that dynamic to reverse the course of whatever is happening. Accepting simple realities about situations and people will save you months of heartache about why they didn’t give you a second change, understand your side of the story, or accept a decision you made. Acceptance is a key part of moving forward for you.

I went through bad church break up a few years ago. I am going to be transparent and share my process and how it all worked through. An important side note, therapy could be a valuable resource as well. Therapy was to me, especially as I processed through the core element of my struggle with my break-up (belonging and no longer belonging to the spiritual community at my previous church).

My Church Break-Up Recovery Process (Real Timeline)

  • July – Church break-up appeared inevitable
  • August 8th – Church break-up happened
  • August – Church and myself came to an agreement about my transition and understanding moving forward
  • September – Space created; ceased going to that church and began to take a step back from relationships with volunteers and families. New opportunities began to become real for next steps in ministry
  • October – New professional opportunity began
  • February (following year) – Began a therapy relationship focusing on healing from the core elements exposed in my church break-up (belonging, transparency, accountability)
  • March – Started to feel a stronger sense of what happened, my role in it, and the role of my former church in the break up
  • April/May – Began to communicate openly and honestly with people that knew me and cared about me about the challenges of the break up, how it impacted me, and what how I wanted to transform my leadership because of the experience

It’s a healing process that should be embraced. Are there some ugly elements that I didn’t include in my timeline above? Yes. I didn’t include those to respect the different parties that were affected in the break-up. It’s never perfect or clean. But regardless of how it feels in the moment, you can move forward. A setback experience can be the best platform for a comeback in a new chapter that is overflowing with flourishing, growth, and transformation in Jesus.

Tim Balow

TIm Balow is has served in a variety of youth worker roles between Chicago and Minneapolis over the last 10 years. Tim currently serves with Youth Specialties working on projects focused on customer and content operations. Tim's passion is to serve the under-resourced youth worker and to encourage the next generation of students to step into a transformative relationship with Jesus.

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.