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How to Leave Well

 —  May 11, 2012 — 6 Comments

Leaving a church is a tough decision. You’ve already weighed, deliberated, and debated the decision for months (or perhaps very briefly and acted impulsively) and the transition plan is quickly coming together. You want to leave well…but how do you do that? It’s challenging even under the best circumstances. And even if you’re leaving under tension, there’s no reason to let students, volunteers, and friends get caught in the crossfire of an ugly departure. Here are a few ways we think you can leave well no matter the situation.

Announce it far and wide.
People need to hear it from you—so make sure when you go public you make the reach as far as possible. Not to add to the drama but to make sure that people hear it from an official channel instead of through the prayer chain, errr….grapevine. If you talk about it in church on Sunday, by Monday morning it should be on Facebook and the church Web site just so it stops confusion and slows down rumors.

Keep the transition short but sweet.
Once you know, and your leadership knows, shorter is usually better. Although we love to romanticize the idea of the handoff and peaceful transition of power, an abbreviated timeline is usually the best route. Once you announce things you’ll be perceived as “halfway in” and a lame duck, so a graceful exit is preferred. By the way, has anybody ever actually seen a “lame duck”? Just wonderin’.

Maintain unity.
We aren’t suggesting you hide the truth, but we are begging you to protect the fragile unity of God’s church. Don’t dare to think your exit is a time to grandstand for change and call for resignations. Leave in the spirit of unity and you’ll never regret it. Not everybody deserves or needs to know the “whole story.”

Really leave.
You’ve made the transition plan public, quick, and abundantly clear—now stick to it! Resist the urge to babysit the students. Fight the arrogant belief that no one will care about them when you’re gone—God loves them far more than you do and will watch over his children. Besides, you always said you were working yourself out of a job, so here’s your chance to see how you did. Don’t meddle; it isn’t your place anymore. Resist the urge to ask friends and former students how the “new guy/girl” is doing. Don’t let yourself become critical of changes he or she begins to make in your absence.

Pray for the church.
The church will go on without you. In fact, it may even thrive once you’re gone. Oftentimes staff transition allows the leadership of the church to be more focused in their vision and retool any errant plans to accomplish that vision. And while it may hurt when something you built from the ground up gets unceremoniously axed, pray that God will further his Kingdom while your Empire crumbles. Besides, if you really leave like we suggested above you won’t know they changed things!

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

Josh Griffin

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6 responses to How to Leave Well

  1. Good post, but quick question. Regarding “Keeping Transition Short and Sweet” can you [or other readers] elaborate more on what that exactly means? I have a friend leaving his local church and gave them a “three year notice” I couldn’t believe it. But he wanted to make sure they could find someone to replace him, train that person adequately and then he would leave and it would just be a tiny bump in the ministry but everything would keep going.

    Also, I know of people that do 6 weeks, tell their staff on May 1 that they’re out of there by June 15, but is that enough time to find a new person? Or is that going to leave the work unattended until the role is filled which could dismantle the ministry all together?

    I am a new youth worker, but I know my predecessor was there for about a year from the moment he said he was leaving to the moment he actually left.

    Just curious on what your experience and other youth worker’s experiences have been on this matter.

    Thanks.

  2. Eric,

    I can’t even begin to imagine the problems that would arise by giving a 3 year notice. Phew, I wouldn’t touch that with a 10 foot pole. Effective leaders are constantly training people up under themselves, in an armor bearer type way. They keep an eye out for people who have servants hearts, and who are investing not only their time but also their resources into the ministry. When they move on, the person they have been mentoring naturally takes their place.
    If the ministry completely falls apart once the leader moves on, you have to ask yourself, “What or who were they really leading?”

  3. Although at first glance the three-year notice (mentioned in a comment above) seems a bit ridiculous, I can see where it might actually play out well. There are life situations where a person may know they aren’t going to be in a position forever. Perhaps a spouse is in the military or attending school, and it’s well known that the family will move in a certain amount of years. Perhaps the youth worker is in school or seminary themselves and will probably move once the degree is completed. In this case, I think it would be awkward to NOT be honest about future plans .

    In my case, I’m four weeks away from leaving a four-year full time position at our church, as my husband and I prepare to move overseas for full-time missionary service. Although we never announced a specific end date, we’ve been telling people for over two years that we’d be planning to do missionary service as soon as my husband finished school. That wasn’t something that we proclaimed from the rooftops, but as people asked about us personally (i.e. why is Jesse going to school?), it was a natural part of sharing how God has been working in our lives and calling us overseas.

    Last fall, I started talking with my pastor more specifically and he and I started working out some goals and plans for replacing me and what I should be working on to intentionally leave the youth ministry in good hands. By November, we had a small team of people gathered to start working on some of those goals and plans, and in January, a letter was given in person to our church leadership and staff and mailed to the homes of our members. Like I said, I’ll be done in a few weeks, leaving about six months from the initial announcement until my departure, but more like 10 months since my pastor and some key leaders were initially told.

    I’ve certainly heard the advice mentioned in the article – leave quickly – but in this particular case, I’m so thankful it’s worked out for this gradual transition.

    I feel like it has sent a much better message about the youth ministry not falling apart once I leave. Rather than having it be a “shock – our youth leader is gone – there’s no one to replace them – everything has changed – wham someone new eventually steps in” kind of moment, it’s been a gradual process. Sure, I’m leaving, but things have still continued on for some time since I initially made that announcement. There will be a natural break for summer (a time when we typically have a lighter youth ministry calendar), and by August, someone new will be leading and continuing to do ministry, without (hopefully) much disruption.

    Also, having this lengthy transition period has left lots of time to get things prepared for the person who will take this position. Sure, in a perfect world, I’d have things pulled together all along, but it’s been great to be able to have time to accomplish goals to set them up well – organizing files and plans, putting together a “handbook” of helpful hints and information, putting some barebones structure into place for next year, etc. If I would have abruptly announced my departure and left, that surely wouldn’t have happened.

    In any case, I know many people’s positions don’t allow them the luxury of knowing months ahead of time that they’ll be leaving… but, when that happens, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing as we initially might think. :)

  4. I would like to express some appreciation to the writer for bailing me out of this particular crisis. As a result of scouting through the world-wide-web and getting methods which were not powerful, I assumed my entire life was over. Existing minus the approaches to the issues you have resolved as a result of the short post is a crucial case, as well as ones that could have negatively damaged my entire career if I had not noticed your web page. Your personal skills and kindness in handling all the things was vital. I am not sure what I would have done if I had not encountered such a subject like this. I can also now look forward to my future. Thanks a lot very much for the skilled and amazing help. I will not hesitate to suggest your web sites to anybody who ought to have assistance on this matter.

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