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.


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

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.

Too often I hear youth workers say something like, “I love my youth group, but I wouldn’t go to church here if it wasn’t my job.” I honestly understand this sentiment, and realize that most of the time it is just a season of frustration with the style or leadership in a given period of time. But sometimes it isn’t a light statement, it is actually very serious. And if you find yourself in this situation, I think you’ve only got about three choices:

Get on board
I’d start with you – maybe you need a change of heart. Have some dialogue with the powers that be in your church to better understand the context of their decisions and choices. Perhaps you are frustrated out of ignorance and a little more knowledge will help you get a bigger picture of what they are trying to accomplish. Style preferences are unavoidable, some things you just have to learn to live with. You’ll never lose with humility so it is a good place to start.

Lead the change
Different opinions and outside perspective can be healthy to a church – being divisive behind the scenes certainly isn’t. If you’re frustrated with your church to the point you may even reconsider serving there, be a part of the solution and not the problem. Maybe you stepping up is exactly what the church needs to help them in a time of transition. Help lead the change.

Get out
This one isn’t to be taken lightly, but perhaps literally. If you wouldn’t attend the church you are the youth worker at and have no desire to lead them into a time of transition – get out. Don’t take a paycheck from the church, tithe money, if you aren’t all in. Remember a period of frustration isn’t worth leaving over, if youth workers did that our tenure would be even worse. But if there’s no hope and you’ve done all you can, it might be time to ask God what is next.

What do you think? Open to discussion/objections in the comments. Fire away!