Local Church Ministry

How to Leave Well

I’ve written a great deal about pastor transitions on this site, but it’s been a while since I’ve experienced a ministry transition myself. However, after nearly ten years, yesterday was my final day as Associational Mission Strategist of the Pike Association of Southern Baptists. Tomorrow, I will begin a new role with the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

After the Lord confirmed my new ministry assignment, my mind quickly shifted to one final task in my associational role: I wanted to honor the Lord as I completed my service. In other words, I wanted to leave well.

If you’ve served in ministry for a while, you’ve probably faced a similar situation. The Lord gives us new ministry assignments from time to time. If you’re wrestling with the possibility that God might be calling you to a new ministry assignment, this post may help. However, if you’re confident that a transition is in your near future, I’ve listed below seven ways to honor the Lord as you transition to your next ministry assignment.

Before we get to the list, I have two quick disclaimers. First, these suggestions assume that you are leaving your current ministry voluntarily. You haven’t been fired or forced to resign. While most of these suggestions would still apply, others will not. Second, these suggestions also assume that your church or ministry does not have a succession plan in place at the time of your resignation. With those thoughts in mind, here are seven ways to leave your current ministry position well:

#1: Share the news with key leaders first

Once you’ve been called to a new ministry assignment, you’ll want to meet with some key leaders privately before you make your public announcement. It could be a group of elders or deacons. It could be your Personnel Committee or another group. Whomever it is, show them a bit of common courtesy by sharing the news with them first. Doing so will allow them to process the news privately and make a plan for moving forward after the public announcement.

You would think this recommendation would be a no-brainer, but you would be wrong. I should know; I didn’t do this when I resigned from my first ministry position, and it rightfully caused a lot of hurt feelings among the church leaders. I simply made the announcement at the end of a worship service and then suffered the consequences. Many years later, I still regret not speaking with my key leaders first. Don’t make the same mistake!

#2: Offer assistance, but don’t demand it

If you’ve served in your current ministry assignment for a long time, you may find it difficult to mentally “turn off” your leadership responsibilities after you announce your resignation. After all, you’ve shepherded those under your care for a long time. Depending on your leadership style, you may want to help your leaders develop a transition plan. You may want to help them identify potential replacements or characteristics to look for in a replacement. You may wish to assist them in identifying a potential interim leader.

There’s nothing wrong with desiring to help in these and other ways, and there’s also nothing wrong with offering to help. However, problems will quickly arise if you demand that the church or ministry follow your advice. Whether you like it or not, you become a lame-duck leader the moment you announce your resignation, and the future of your current ministry no longer includes you as an active participant. Therefore, attempting to control the ministry after you’ve moved on is unwise and unfair to those left behind.

#3: Don’t burn bridges

Let’s face it; some ministry experiences are more difficult than others. If your current ministry assignment has been challenging, you may be happy to say goodbye to some people. Even if your present ministry has been enjoyable, some folks may say hurtful things to you in the heat of the moment as they emotionally process the news that you are leaving.

In either of these scenarios, you may be tempted to say or do things you regret later. Therefore, do everything you can to avoid burning bridges. Even if some folks have been rude to you, you gain nothing by returning the favor as you leave. Rightly or wrongly, folks will remember how you treated them in your final days. As far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone as you leave.

#4: Keep private matters private

A specific way to avoid burning bridges is to keep private matters private, especially regarding social media. If there were grievances between you and other members of your church or ministry organization, don’t air them publicly. I’ve seen too many ministers (and sometimes ministers’ wives) use Facebook or Twitter as a weapon to criticize an individual or group who has hurt them. 

While these public jabs are meant to discredit the reputation of the individual or group, the reality is that they leave a lot of collateral damage. First, the reputation of the minister making the post is damaged, as well as the reputation of the church or ministry organization. Airing private grievances publicly also makes it much more challenging to share the gospel with those who witnessed your public tirade. Therefore, keep private matters private.

#5: Celebrate the good times

You’ll likely leave with some good memories, even in the most difficult ministry situations. Remember those. As you reminisce with others, talk about those times. Write them down in a journal. Highlight them on social media. It could be a successful event, a meaningful relationship, or a significant milestone. Whatever it is, celebrate it as you leave!

If your current ministry has been particularly fruitful, don’t take the credit. Give the glory to God. Spend time reflecting on how you’ve seen the Lord’s hand at work. Again, it’s probably a good idea to record your reflections in a journal. After you’ve spent time reflecting on God’s blessings, be sure to thank him privately and publicly.

#6: Pray for the decision-makers

After you have announced your resignation, your ability to make either short-term or long-term decisions ceases. Others will make the decisions you used to make during the interim period. In addition, other questions unique to the transition period will need to be answered. Who will be responsible for scheduling guest preachers? Should we hire an interim pastor? Who will be on the pastor search committee? Should we search for a full-time pastor or part-time pastor? Who will lead our business meetings during the interim?

These are just a brief sampling of the decisions that will need to be made by others. As you leave your current ministry assignment, commit to praying for those left to make decisions after you’re gone.

#7: Finish strong

Some leaders stop serving the second they announce their resignation. They may be tempted to stop fulfilling their ministry responsibilities or make no effort to ensure a smooth transition. In essence, they limp to the finish line. 

While your responsibilities will certainly look different after you announce your resignation, you will still have some things to do. Use your last few weeks to do everything you can to ensure a smooth transition. While you can’t make decisions after you’re gone, you can certainly help those left behind to understand the decisions they will need to make. You can also document how you have coordinated ministry events and train those who will assume leadership.

Do everything you can to set up your church or ministry organization for continued kingdom impact. Don’t limp to the finish line; sprint to it!

While you can’t control what happens after you’re gone, you can control how you leave. I hope these seven suggestions will help you to leave well whenever the time comes that the Lord calls you to a new ministry assignment.

Photo by ConvertKit on Unsplash

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