Over the past few years I have seen many people and had many friends who have left church staff positions (pastoral and staff) for other churches and/or jobs. 7 months ago I left the position I had at a local church. Over the past few months I have thought about how I left and how I have seen many others leave, and I have a few thoughts on the importance of leaving well from a ministry position.
I wholeheartedly believe that God calls some people away to new churches and new ministries/roles. He also calls some to stay for the long haul at one church/ministry. Both are necessary and important. When I left, I believe I did everything in my power to leave and finish well at my job in order to set up the next person. Everything I say below I feel that I did most recently when I left 7 months ago. However, there have been times in my life when I have left church and ministry positions that I didn’t do all of these and as I’ve grown and matured, I have learned that the things below are vital to the church and making sure ministries continue well.
So how does one leave a church? These are important things to consider whether you’re the senior pastor, youth pastor, office administrator or any other role on a church staff.
Leave Proper Notice
I believe that people are called away from one church to another, or leave for various reasons but I firmly believe that it is important, necessary and God-honoring to give a notice that is a good length of time from a month or 2 to even 6 months to a year. Obviously this depends on the environment and health of the church. I gave 8 weeks when I left my most recent position. It was a healthy church that I could have an open conversation with and share them what we felt was next. I’ve also been in a church where I only gave 2 weeks notice even though I had decided to leave months prior. Looking back on this, I would have given more notice but the reason was due to a lack of trust of the church staff and an environment that had shown that trust was not there. These are hard situations to navigate. [I understand there are reasons to leave quickly, but I think pastors should set ministries up well and leave a decent notice. Unless the situation is unhealthy I don’t think a pastor should give less than a month’s notice (or more!) but this is simply my opinion.]
Why is leaving proper notice important? For one, the church is the body of Christ. God has placed you there for a reason and if you feel He is calling you away it is honoring of Him to finish well and I believe that involves letting those around you knowing that it is time. Leaving proper notice gives you time to get things in order and it leaves the church, elders/board and staff in a position to prepare for the future and replace you well. There are scenarios where leaving quickly is necessary but I believe more times than not giving a good amount of time as notice is important and necessary to the church.
Set the Next Person Up
When you leave it is vital that you leave in a way that is healthy for yourself and healthy for the next person to step into that role. What I mean by this is it is necessary to set the next person up for success. The different ministries that you oversee should be positioned and left in a place that the next person can step in seamlessly as best as possible. Whether you are a pastor or an administrator, it is important that you leave things in a way that the next person can come in and hit the ground running.
There is nothing worse than coming into a new position and having to figuring everything out from scratch. Sometimes this is the case, but if it can be avoided this is helpful to setting someone up well to lead and equip and serve the body of Christ. If you can leave “how-to” processes and procedures with details on how to do/run certain ministries this is helpful. You can write these in a way that are not authoritative or arrogant but simply God-honoring and lovingly setting up the next person well. You can even say that! Whatever the case, it is important to set ministries, people, and administrative/paperwork duties up well before you leave so the ministries can function well and the next person can come in ready to lead. If you’re leaving for a new role how would you want it left for you? Again, this is the body of Christ.
Finish with Christ at the Center
When you leave, leave for reasons that are honoring God and pursing Jesus at all times. If you feel God is calling you away to a new ministry or simply calling you to step away from your position/church for any various reason, do it with Christ at the center of the decision. Christ must be at the center of how you leave. Leaving notice, setting the next person up for success and how you finish will show if Christ is at the center. Don’t just check out. Many people when they decide to leave it shows in how they end. Finish well. End well. I have repeated this much but it is important to say again: this is the body of Christ! This is the church. How you treat the church is how you treat Jesus. This is important to remember as you leave one church for another or leave for whatever reason.
We must be honoring God and showing Jesus in all that we do, and this is the case when we leave a church or position. Regardless of the situation or scenario, you must honor Jesus at all times even if those around you don’t. You may give God-honoring notice and you may get let go because of it. You may set the next person up well with great ministries and details/notes and they may not use them at all. Above all else, finish with Christ at the center and you can leave knowing that you did all that you could to honor God by loving this church body well. God calls people to new roles and to new churches, but He also calls us to finish well and honor Him in our work at all times. Finish well as you leave. This is the body of Christ. How you leave will show how you think and honor Jesus.