How do you leave a youth ministry role with honesty and grace?

The leading voices in 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 that phrase myself in the not-so-distant past. But the more I process it … I’m not sure its possible.

Leaving well implies that it is possible to finish perfectly and that every relationship will be restored and at peace when you go. That everyone will sing songs in your honor when you leave, laying down palm branches in your driveway as your Hyundai backs out for the last time. In my experience and seeing a ton of other youth workers walk through this: transition is tough.

The good news: I do think there are a few ways to leave without adding to the pain of transition. Want to leave with honesty and grace? Here’s how …

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 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.

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).

Leave better not bitter
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; know that it will leave some scars 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. I’m not sure you can leave well … but you can leave better.

JG

Related articles: How to Leave Well, 3 Things to Do When You’re Leaving and Thoughts About Transitions

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.

How to Leave Well

Josh Griffin —  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.



We’ve all heard it. Finding a job is tough in this economy when so many people are out of work. Youth Ministry is no exception. Most of us who have steady youth ministry jobs are staying put, but for a lot of us that simply isn’t an option. So while finding a good Church in this tough economic climate may seem tough, it’s not impossible. In fact, I’ve done it twice.

The first time was in 2008, when the markets first collapsed. My salary as a Youth and Children’s minister was payed out of the interest generated by an endowment. I used to joke that I was the “June Jolly Memorial Youth Pastor”. The fund stopped generating interest and my salary money evaporated over night. I walked into the office one morning and was told that I was being let go immediately. I got on my denomination’s website and there were NO youth ministry jobs in my home state of Kentucky. I had a strong sense, though, that this was my life’s purpose and that if I exhausted every effort to remain in ministry, God would honor that and make up the difference. I wound up moving to North Carolina where, until just recently, I served as a Youth and Children’s Minister at a larger Church and with a raise in salary. But that was after several months of earnest search and “loser days” sitting in our apartment watching bills pile up while my wife bore the weight.

As I write this, I am avoiding the chore of packing up my office. Next week I am moving to my new Church in Virginia. Last fall, my wife’s father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a fatal illness of the blood and bone marrow. He was given three years to live. After much prayer and soul searching, my wife and I decided that we needed to move closer to home. Seeing our family only two or three times a year was no longer right for us. Our current Church was really supportive when we decided that we would begin looking for a new Church family. I kept them in the loop early and often in my decision making process and they allowed me to remain employed while I looked for another Church. In exchange, I have been able to aid the Church in their transition to a new youth pastor. It has been a bittersweet process but we have somehow managed to keep a family here in North Carolina while acquiring a new one in Virginia. Through these experiences, I learned a couple of truths that may be helpful to anyone exploring the possibility of making a move in THIS economy.

1. Be Transparent. Let your Church know what you are thinking and feeling (assuming this is an environment that is not so toxic that this isn’t a real possibility), and let them know that you are going to begin looking for another ministry, but that for the time you remain committed to this one and will do everything in your power to aid a smooth and graceful transition. (If you are fearing your job may not be around for much longer, knowing you are leaving willingly in a couple of months may save your Church from having to make an abrupt decision).

2. Fish on the other side of the boat!
There’s plenty of youth ministry jobs if you are willing to look beyond your usual spot! I didn’t want to look outside of my denomination but that meant I had to look outside my home state. Maybe you are attached to home but not to a denomination. Decide what you value and don’t get hung up on the rest! I have a Caucasian friend who is at an all African American church. They love him to death (but tease him to no end)! How many of us would overlook an opportunity we thought was for “somebody else”.

3. Distinguish yourself.
If you can make a resume in the form of a comicbook (along with your real “grown up” one), a video resume with youth testimonials, or write an eloquent essay, or whatever your thing is… DO IT! You’ll get an interview.

4. Go the extra mile. My Church in North Carolina still talks about how I drove 8 hours to be present for a job interview when they offered to do it over the phone.

5. Be willing to say, “NO.” Just because a Church is open does not mean it’s where you need to be. I visited a church several months ago where the pastor was really impressed with me. I knew I would have the job if I wanted it. But as he took me around and showed me the facility, he whispered conspiratorially about all the political back and forth in the congregation: who didn’t like the gym and why, how pastor so and so toe the congregation in half, and how they had fired the youth pastor (an older man) but hired him as the janitor (awkward…). Oh, and you’ll be the latest in a line of two year youth pastors dating back to 1992 when St. Awesome left. RED FLAG!!! Driving home, I told my wife, “I know you’re in a hurry to be home, but there were definite signs of dysfunction. I think we’d be miserable there.” The next morning, the Pastor from the Church that eventually hired me called. You don’t want to be moving again in two or three years, so make sure you are moving where God wants you to move.

I hope these thought were helpful to everyone who is in a similar situation of having to pursue God’s will in the midst of a really tough market. In the end, though, this economy isn’t really different than any other economy. God always takes care of those whom He has called and if we pray in humility and follow His direction, He will show us what He has for us. Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and the other stuff will work itself out. But to be on the safe side, my mother would want you to know that you should wear a tie to your interview.

Danny Nettleton
is a youth pastor and blogger who originally wrote an incredible comment on this post that turned into a request for the full guest post you just read.

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.

JG



Football is a tough and often thankless business. Successful teams get the most out of their players and the moment they can no longer “get anything” out of them, the right move is to part ways. It stinks. It’s not fair. But, it’s the right thing to do for the best of a team.

In the past two weeks I have seen several of my favorite players cut from their teams. My Steelers cut their all-time leading receiver, Hines Ward. He caught more passes for more yards and more touchdowns than any other Steelers’ in history. But, he’s at the end of his career and his numbers have dropped off dramatically and the Steelers need salary cap room. Aaron Smith, regarded as the best 3-4 defensive end in Steeler history (and one of the best in NFL history) has suffered season ending injuries the past 3 years and, because of that, the Steelers cut him last week to save money. And now, Peyton Manning … 4 time league MVP … Super Bowl champion … Super Bowl MVP … one of the best, if not the best, quarterbacks in the history of the NFL … gone from the Indianapolis Colts. It’s harsh. It’s cold. It’s reality.

What I’m learning from these types of decisions is this:

- Being the one who makes the tough decisions is a hard job.
If you care too much about being liked, you’ll never make those types of decisions. I’m trying to become that type of person. Sometimes I do well. Sometimes I don’t do so well. But, I strive to be that type of person.

- You can honor the past well … but when it’s time to move on be willing to move on. In the church setting, just because you move on from a “program” or an event (or get rid of the organ), it doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate the past. It doesn’t mean you don’t honor those who have set the foundation for ministry happening today. It doesn’t mean you are arrogant and only think of what you want. It means you’re evaluating what you’re doing and making decisions on what works and what doesn’t work anymore. The goal is to reach people for Jesus. If something you do (a program or event) doesn’t DO that any longer … it’s time to part ways and move on and stop wasting time, energy, and finances on something that no longer produces results.

- Emotions factor into all of this. I’m about as sentimental as they come. It’s hard for me to not do something because of all the great memories it’s brought about. The reason “fans” have trouble with teams letting go of long time players is because they are “fanatics.” Fans are irrational and that’s the beauty of being a fan. But, a leader needs to be fanatical about the ultimate goal, whatever that may be. In the church, it’s helping people come to know Jesus and see them thriving in a life with Him.

- If you’re on the way out, go out with honor and class.
Each of the three players I mentioned handled themselves with such dignity and respect. They burned no bridges. They were humble and grateful.

I heard Andy Stanley talk about this one time and he described a program, ministry, or event that no longer works as the “old, ugly couch in your parents living room.” When it was purchased in 1965 it was in style. It was fashionable. People enjoyed it. But, 50 years later, if that couch is still in the living room … well … it’s a bit out of style, to say the least. Truth and purpose remain the same. Methods can change and should.

I’m certainly no expert in any of this, but am striving to learn from these types of situations.

Rich Yauger is a youth pastor who blogs at The Yaug Blog. Be sure to check it out!

I recently did an email interview with a college student who was writing a research paper about the departure of students from church once they graduate. Thought I would post my answers up here on the blog as well – would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, too!

1. What kind of doubts about the Bible and Christianity do you hear Christian young people express?

Can the Bible be trusted? If God is so loving, why is there so much evil in the world? Is Hell real? What about the inconsistencies in the Bible? Why does the Bible disagree so clearly with what we KNOW is true from science?

Students in our ministry have all sorts of doubts, and honestly, I’m so glad they are sharing them with us. I think a crisis of faith in high school where they are trained, card for, mentored, loved and further educated sets them up for much higher rates of personalizing their faith than those in less fortunate environments who aren’t allowed to express doubts until early in their college years when it is challenged very directly and their faith crumbles in a heap.

2. What non-biblical beliefs do you see Christian young people embracing?

Evolution is taught as scientific fact in our culture, so it is a common belief that theory is how our universe was created. I would also say there is a surge in a more inclusiveness to different faiths, not just within various Christian denominations, but even non-biblical faith systems. Just Google “I’m a Mormon” and you’ll see how great of a job the Mormons are doing of fitting in with Christians and see why Christian teens may be misled.

3. What social issues are young people struggling with?

Bullying is huge in the news and the bookstore these days – it is funny since it has been around forever but just now getting the attention it deserves. In addition to that the homosexual issue is now very much at the forefront of youth culture (see Born This Way and Glee as examples), along with depression, identity issues, self-esteem and suicide. We just finished up a teaching series called Secrets, and have over 400 anonymous cards returned with real issues that our students are struggling with. It was powerful stuff and will shape our teaching topics for the next 1-2 years I would imagine.

4. What do you think are the biggest reasons Christian young people question their faith?

I think it is natural to question your faith. If you test it, and it checks out, your faith is deepened. I may even go as far as suggesting that I think that faith should be questioned, and it is a normal part of believing in something without seeing it. For that matter, I’m not sure it can (or should be) helped. I say that as a youth pastor who knows that to be true, but also as a father that fears that statement because I so desperately want my children to know and walk with God. Look at Doubting Thomas as example A for doubting leading to devotion. Sad he gets such a bad rap – his doubt led him to a depth of faith that would lead him to literally change the world for Christ.

5. What do you think are the major reasons Christian young people reject their faith?

Unsatisfactory answers. Poor foundational teaching. And I also think that the rejection of a parent’s values/belief/ideals is a somewhat normal part of adolescent development as well – we have to remember that the teenager years are leading up to this big burst of freedom to live their own life free of their parents and their past – and the run with the newfound freedom. I have a feeling that teenagers and young adults have long been leaving the church (perhaps to return as a young parent) and it has only recently come to light.

6. What do you think would help Christian young people keep their faith after they leave home?

I think parents are the first and most important key. A Godly, consistent home that reinforces the truths of the Bible is critical. I think helping graduated students find a new church in their new college home and walk through that transition is huge. The importance of the right circle of friends cannot be overstated. And a relationship with someone from back home (a mentor, Life Group leader, etc) to help walk with them through this time of freedom, tempation and maturity. The book The Slow Fade might give you some more specific insight here.

7. What are you doing to prepare your youth to face future challenges to their beliefs?

Every year we do several practical series and give out tons of usable tools to help students grow on their own. Our goal is to make sure that students have a faith of their own and not just riding the Christian culture or the pressure to conform of their parents. We also do regular apologetics teaching series and offer several workshops on these subjects to help ground them in the faith. Life Groups are the opportunity for mentorship and modeling of faith by a trained, screened and loving leader.

8. Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Do you see a correlation between how little it costs to be a Christian in America and the loss of faith that is occurring in Christian young people?

Maybe so, I suppose? I would suggest it isn’t as easy at you might think to be a Christian (outside of the Christian private school/bible college/home bubble I grew up well within myself). In the real world I see my students having to stand up for their faith, be persecuted (mildly by Tertullian standards of course) and perhaps it costs them more than we think on the surface.

JG