how to leave a church well as a pastor
Process your personal feelings.
Pastor, you’ve been asked to resign—and this time it’s not because you accidentally made everyone in the church deaf during a sermon.
What comes next? The potential for hurt feelings is great. You’re probably telling yourself that you’ve given your all to this church (even if it no longer wants or needs your all). The people in your life who always wanted to see you leave may be feeling vindicated. If you really care about the health of this church, then process your feelings with a trusted friend or family member and try to think about what you would like to say on the way out. This will no doubt be difficult, but don’t let your hurt feelings get in the way of your ministry, and don’t take it personally—it’s not directed at you, but rather at who they need to be right now.
Actively listen to those that are hurt.
Pastoral and lay leader turnover is a regular occurrence. Some churches cycle through multiple pastors in a year. This can wreak havoc on the congregation—not only do they have to get used to yet another new face, but there’s an element of mistrust that comes with such frequent changeovers. No one likes to feel like their pastor is a revolving door.
“How do I leave well?” will probably be one of the most popular questions asked of you by your congregation once you announce your departure, so it’s worth taking some time before you announce your departure to consider what aspects of this process are most important to them (and thus should be most important to you).
In order for any church member to appreciate your pastoral legacy and understand what’s great about it, they’ll need more than just the bare facts about how many people were baptized or how much money was raised for various ministries over the course of your tenure. They’ll want insight into how you worked with community leaders and congregational groups toward shared goals; how much attention you paid not just to local needs but also global ones; and whether or not conversations were held on controversial topics as opposed to avoided altogether (or worse, done through anonymous surveys which hurt dialogue).
Look for opportunities to minister.
Pastoral transitions are a unique circumstance that should be treated with care on both sides. Although the idea of moving on from a church is exciting, it’s important to give the people left behind enough time to adjust. Preparation and communication is key as you look for ways to help the church and its members with your transition. Don’t just disappear! Make sure to plan ahead for how you’re going to break the news to your church about your decision, when you’re planning on leaving, and what you can do afterward. The last thing anyone wants after someone leaves a position of leadership is for rumors or negative gossip spread from things they said or did while leaving.
The most important thing to remember while transitioning is that it’s not just about telling people in the same place where you have been leading them but also preparing yourself spiritually and emotionally for what new season God may be calling you into.
Remain kind and professional.
It’s been a year, and the church is still asking you to do events, but you want to leave gracefully. Now what? First of all, remain kind and professional no matter what. Write out the final details in an email with all the same details as before—the date, time, where it is, who covers for you on that Sunday. If you’re feeling a bit bitter toward anyone or anything at this point (for example: “I have never liked your preaching style” or “I hate how I was treated after my health scare”), don’t write it down. Keep everything positive and professional—this is simply a business transaction after all. In addition to writing a final email officially cancelling the event(s), be sure to go into event coordinator mode one last time by making sure everything is lined up for your replacement(s). As much as possible, leave things better than they were when you started! Be aware of how your words and actions are perceived. Even if people don’t say it directly to your face, they might be saying things like “This guy’s just here for the paycheck and doesn’t care about us” (even if it isn’t true). Before leaving on good terms with utmost professionalism while maintaining respectful boundaries of both space and time with people who may not always act respectfully toward each other (or even towards you), make sure that every word that comes out of your mouth both in person and online is professional at worst and kind at best.
The list of things we (pastors) must attend to is long. We need to lead by example, model Christ’s “sermon on the mount,” and grow in our relationship with Him. We need to build up His church. We have to protect and shepherd the flock entrusted to us. We have to mentor young people and help them get licensed. On top of this, we must encourage believers, who come to worship at our churches week after week after week—sometimes daily! And when we are not busy doing all this, we have personal lives and families that require attention as well. Being a pastor can be a lot like serving in the military: you never know what tomorrow will bring, so you better focus your efforts where they will yield the most results today!
Keep your eye on the prize.
In leaving a church well, it’s important to keep in mind the main reason for the transition—God wants pastors to be where he sends them. You serve at his pleasure. That reality doesn’t mean you leave without looking back, but when you do look back, don’t linger on what was. Instead of lamenting over what you’re leaving behind, focus on who sent you and why. If that’s keeping your eyes focused on heaven and his will for your life, then all will go well as you move forward.
In addition to looking to God, keep your eyes on the prize by preparing yourself and keeping in contact with your next church while working out your exit strategy from this one. Whether it’s helping a church plant get off the ground or planting a church—or even just helping train new staff members—your experience is valuable to other ministries and churches can’t wait to benefit from it!
If there are any more specific questions about what I’ve written above, feel free to leave a comment below or email me at [email protected]devermoreforeverandevermorewe’relegallymarriedtilldeathdousayya .com
Leaving a church is one of the hardest things you’ll do as a pastor, but with the right attitude, you can make it a meaningful experience.
Pastors, when it comes time to leave your church, do so graciously and with a positive attitude. This is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever have to do in ministry, but if you’re prepared and have a good attitude about the process, it can be a meaningful experience for your congregation and for yourself.
What can you do to leave well? Here are six tips.
- Face the fact that you are leaving your church well before you actually start looking for another job or preparing to transition out of pastoring altogether. There’s nothing worse than having an emotionally charged farewell with your congregation while still working out what you want to say or how much time you’d like to spend transitioning out of pastoring. If at all possible, try to face this reality at least six months before leaving so that as many details as possible can be ironed out in advance (see Tip #2).
- Find a good transition pastor or coordinator who can help guide the process along smoothly and ensure that things run smoothly when the time comes for you to step down from the pulpit and begin transitioning into another role within the church body. This person should also help support others in making sure that there are resources available for people who may need them during this difficult season (such as grief counselors). Not only should this person be able to respond positively if there are difficult questions about why God has led you away from this particular congregation, but he or she should also know how best to handle any concerns from others who might feel afraid about losing their favorite pastor or insecure about what will happen next because of these changes within their church family —just part of why it’s important not go through this process quickly without preparation! 3. If applicable in your situation, consider taking on a new pastoral role on a limited basis—such as preaching every other month—so that people aren’t left without necessary ministerial leadership during what could otherwise be an uncertain transition period. 4-6 hrs