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.

The voices leading youth ministry have said for a long time that when it is time to go … leave well. To be honest, I think I’ve even said it in the past. I’m not sure it is possible. Let me explain.

There is no such thing as leaving well. I don’t think it is possible! But you can leave better. Leaving well implies that it is possible to finish perfectly and that every relationship will be amiable or better when you go. Not true … but here’s a few ways to leave without adding to the pain of transition:

Protect the pastor

Don’t cause division in the church – you will only hurt God’s body and leave students and volunteers hurt in the crossfire of departure. Know that God will use that church for His glory, even if you are no longer a part of the leadership. You can’t leave perfectly, but you can minimize damage by controlling your tongue (and ears for that matter).

Sever ties
People ask me all of the time if they should maintain relationships with students and leaders from the past. I say no. There might be a few lifelong friends you stay in contact with, but be careful that your friendship doesn’t deteriorate into dissing the church. It is best to help students transition to the new leader of the youth ministry, even if it hurts more to say goodbye and walk away.

Leave better
Take a long hard look at yourself. Don’t jump right into your next position. Take some time to get alone and debrief with your spouse or mentor and get alone with God. Leaving is tough on a church, I’d say it is also tough on you, too. Leaving better means choosing not to divide the church, to walk away … and to work on what God reveals to you in the process.

It is impossible to leave without hurting someone. Even if you leave in ideal conditions people will be hurt to lose you as part of the church. Leaving is messy. Leaving isn’t easy. You can’t leave well … but you can leave better.


I (Josh) remember during one of my most painful seasons in ministry I got an email from a fellow youth pastor. The message was short and sweet — it consisted of 3 words:

“Hang in there.”

Today I’m heading into a painful meeting with a volunteer. He needs to be removed for us to move forward. I had a tough interaction with a parent who was upset about an illustration I used during our recent series on relationships. I had to call out someone for spreading gossip and hurting the unity of our church. It feels like every day this week I’ve been hit with something big or tasked with something extraordinarily difficult. What I need someone to say to me right now is, “Hang in there.”

Thankfully I’ve got some genuine cheerleaders on the sidelines of our ministry. They realize the long hours, tough conversations and painful weeks in ministry add up and, if unchecked, run you straight into burnout. I’ve heard a ton of encouraging words this week that even in a season like this — God isn’t quite done with me at this place. That even when things are tough, God is good and faithful. Remidners that He is changing lives even when the circumstances around our ministry are less than ideal.

So today, please hear this from me: Hang in there.

Fight the battles you need to fight today. Be strong where strength is needed and give in and be weak when it doesn’t really matter. Ask your mentor for prayer this week, grab coffee with a friend in your youth ministry network so you can vent and then gear up for another run.

No one said youth ministry was going to be easy. In fact, I think Jesus might have said our lives would be just the opposite.* But know that He is faithful and is building and shaping you and the people around you. I would imagine that you’re probably not done where He’s got you — that maybe you need to bloom where you’re planted, even if there is a little frost on the ground this morning.

So hang in there. And please remind me of this article the next time I’m about to quit, too.

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.

There are some tough times in youth ministry. If you haven’t experienced them yet, wait until about year four or so, where by then it will for sure meet you at the door. If you are doing effective, in the trenches ministry – there is going to come a time when you’ll feel like quitting. Honestly? I think no matter what kind of ministry you are doing you’ll eventually feel this way. No one is invincible from the urge to walk away. Here are the 3 times when I feel it the worst:

After the best event of your youth ministry career
When you are disconnected from the church, you are in danger. Have you ever come back from a mission trip on a high that no one else was on? Have you ever walked inside the church riding a high after the biggest overnighter in the history of your church only to be greeted be an angry parent or vindictive trustee? Maybe you’ve just given a project your all, and you saw God do something amazing, and you’re immediately called to lead something else and you were just hoping for a break. A key moment of vulnerability is when you are on top of the world.

After a key relational breakdown
There’s nothing worse than an intense conflict with your supervisor, senior pastor or key volunteer. When relationships go bad it becomes difficult to turn it off – instead just the opposite happens and it consumes us. Nothing hurts like when your friends leave you, when someone stabs you in the back, or when someone walks away from the church/God and blames it on you. The pain just doesn’t go away over night – often times it takes time or even a miracle to restore a relationship.

After a tough year
Sometimes it isn’t a key person, event or incident that triggers the feelings toward leaving – often times it is just the pile on effect of a tough season. A series of challenging moments, not enough to topple your strength by themselves, join forces together and can push me over the edge.

How do I fight back? Another blog post for another time. All I will say for now is that while youth ministry has its challenging moments, it is worth it. You are making a difference. And on the other side of pain and the feelings to quit is a strength you may have never even known you had inside you. Fight the good fight, friends. How about you? Share your moment of weakness in the comments.


I heard recently that a scary 90% of people who get into ministry fail for one reason or another. And I’m not na

As student pastors/workers the more spiritual encouragement that is being done, the more life change evident in our students lives, the more dedicated our students are becoming to their Savior, days of discouragement are inevitable. It reminds you of that movie where everything seems to be going too good to be true so you are just waiting for that axe murderer, fatal car crash, or plot-changing catastrophe to throw a wrench in the storyline. In ministry, discouragement is waiting to disrupt, oppress, and hinder our plans. We should expect it, after all Jesus said, “In this life you will have trouble.” So, we should be prepared for these seasons of discouragement, even in ministry. Here’s how:

Identify the Source of Discouragement

Words of Criticism: Picture that playground bully that seems to always poke fun at the smaller, weaker, and unathletic (that’s me) students. People are going to throw stones at you and the funny thing is, you can’t do anything about it! As long as you are doing the will of the Father, people will oppose with critical words. I recently heard about a small, rural church in western Kentucky that had one heck of a revival service. They saw 5 come to Christ in salvation out of a group of only 13. The spirit was moving in that place and after the service as the pastor took his customary spot at the back door greeting the members as they left, Mrs. Gladys approached. The pastor obviously stoked from the great response to the gospel greeted Mrs. Gladys with a smile and said, “That was awesome wasn’t it Mrs. Gladys.” Mrs. Gladys responded with an opposing affect, she was obviously upset. The pastor inquired about her demeanor and she went on to explain that the whole service was a nightmare because the American flag and the Christian flag were respectively located on the wrong sides of the stage. The mysterious thing about it is that God desires some of those Mrs. Gladys’ to be in your life. These people under the allowance of God are refining your ministry through their criticism and causing you to become more Christ-like. (James 1:2-4)

Open Hostility: It is one thing when people throw stones from the side lines. It is another when they come onto the field of play and threaten your ministry. Some discouragement takes the bully from poking fun to literally poking you with his fists or your head in a toilet. Hopefully, none of you have ever experienced that kind of discouragement; however, in ministry there will most likely be those who come to discourage by taking an active role in sabotaging your ministry. For whatever reason, they want to see you fail and are committed to making that happen.

Make Sure You Have the Proper Response

Take your burden straight to God. You and I don’t naturally run to God when these times of discouragement come up. In our flesh we either bottle it up (which leads to ulcers or depression) or we involve a web a people that don’t need to be involved. We pick up a phone or send and email and say, “Listen to what So-and-so just did….Don’t do that, take it directly to God!

Take time to evaluate if any criticism is true. Learn from your critics. In most every criticism there is a bit of truth. “Yes, Mrs. Gladys the flags are indeed on the wrong side of the stage translates” into “These people notice the details.” How can they be blown away by God’s love through the details?

Take action. Don’t just sit on the sidelines awaiting for God to “smite” the discouragers out of your ministry. Do something. If I find out tomorrow that I have cancer, I am going to pray that God miraculously heals me on the way to the oncologist. In times of war, I am going to pray for the peace of God to reign down on our world, but I am going to pay my taxes so that we can have some tanks! Trust in God and take action. In other words, continue in ministry. Keep plugging away. Keep serving faithfully. Ask God for wisdom and press on!
Be encouraged in discouragement. It makes us better pastor/workers, it makes us better servants, it makes us better followers of Jesus!

Tony Richmond is the High School Pastor at First Baptist Church Keller in Keller, Texas.