This month I got to contribute another Slant33 article on the topic of leaving a youth ministry. There are a couple of great responses to the question, wise words from Tash McGill and Ian McDonald. Here’s a clip of what I shared there as well:

Leave at the right time. It isn’t always possible, but leaving at a natural break is best. The end of summer is ideal but not always possible. But even more than leaving at the right time in the calendar, pray through leaving at the right time in the church culture as well. Stay too long after you know you’re done, and it’ll be painfully obvious. Leave too soon, and you’ll blindside people.

Make the transition short. I understand the need for a transition time to help prepare students or ensure a peaceful exchange of leadership, but there’s nothing worse than a lame duck who is out but still in. Pray through the timing of your announcement and the timing of your last day. Typically I wouldn’t put these more than a month or two apart at the most.

JG

This one is tough: How do you tell students you’re leaving the church? There’s no easy way to break the news, but here are a few ideas to consider when you’re in this situation.

Tell your inner circle first.
Gather up your key volunteers and break the news to them first; no doubt some of them will be disappointed, discouraged, or even frustrated/angry, but they deserve to hear it from you first. They trust you, so they trust God’s Spirit in you, but leaving is difficult on everyone—and it will be especially challenging for them. Take in the moment, share in the tears, and give them the privilege of hearing it from you and first.

Tell the rest quickly.
Don’t make those faithful few carry it for too long—plus, once it is out there word travels extremely fast. Have a resignation letter/statement already prepared and work with your leadership to figure out the appropriate channels for distribution.

Prepare for a few common questions.
It wouldn’t hurt for you to think ahead of a few questions you might experience in a follow-up meeting or conversation. A few things that we’ve been asked:

  • Why are you leaving?
  • Do you love them more than us?
  • So what’s the real story behind you leaving?
  • I feel betrayed by your decision. Can you help me understand how God led you to leave us?
  • What’s going to happen to the youth group without you?

Understand the real pain your students are experiencing.
You may be excited about you departure, but before you deliver the news, understand the genuine pain this causes many of your students. You are leaving. You are leaving us. You are leaving me. You’ve had months to process it, but they’re hearing it for the first time. Let them process the news, too, and be prepared for tears, anger, and confusion. This is a great chance to show grace under fire.

Give words as your parting gifts.
Instead of giving into the temptation of taking shots when you leave, work hard to give words of affirmation and belief to the students, volunteers, and church as a whole. If the church chooses to honor you for your time serving the church, turn it back on them and praise them for doing the work of the ministry that will long outlast your tenure.

Help them follow Jesus, not the youth pastor.
Sometimes students get this confused, so point them to Jesus every day while you serve and continue to point them there as you leave. When we follow a human, only one thing is for sure: We are going to be disappointed.

Any other words of advice/experience to share with those that are about to tell their students the news?

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.