4 Thoughts on Leaving your Church Well

Ministry is a unique calling.

I don’t think any of us would argue with that or dismiss that reality. It’s not a job, a vocation, or a career – it’s a calling. And we attribute our roles in specific churches to calling. Ask any pastor why he serves the church he serves, and he will invariably tell you something that involves being “called” not just by the church, but by God himself.

And sometimes, we feel called elsewhere – either to another church, ministry, or as in my case, seminary.

And the best advice I’ve received when leaving a church was from Mark Dever (founder of 9Marks), “Leave well. Don’t flame out.” Whatever you do, don’t destroy the impact you’ve made.

Don't destroy everything you've done

Image via flickr: hckyso

So how can you make sure you leave well?

Stop the Rumor-mill

  • Make your reasons plain and evident. Don’t hide behind fancy words, or even religious jargon. Be courteous and kind, but be plain. When people are left to wonder and guess, they’ll always drift to the worst-case scenario that is ultimately tied to whatever cause they propagate. You may have left to be closer to family, but soon you hear the rumor that you left because they weren’t singing enough stanzas of “Just as I am.”

Empower the (New) Leadership

  • Be open and available to people even after you leave, but refuse to stand between them and the new shepherd that God has brought to that flock. You will likely receive phone calls and emails from people of varying emotional states, all wanting to tell you how horrible things are going (I’ve never gotten a call that said, “Dave, things are going great. Your leaving was the best thing that could’ve happened!” and quite honestly, I don’t really want to). Lend an ear, but always draw them back to Christ and to the Church. They’re Jesus’s disciples – not yours.

Don’t Look for Blood

  • Leaving is painful. And like anyone, sometimes we start to look for someone to wear the blame when we’re in pain, because that’s supposed to make it easier to cope. If we can make it someone else’s fault (even if it’s no one’s), we can direct our emotions in their direction. Find solace in the sovereignty of God. Trust that whatever the circumstances that led to your leaving, God is in control and is working your circumstances for His glory and your good – even if you can’t see it at the moment.

Trust the God-who-Called-you-to-the-Church to Care for the Church

  • After all, it’s His isn’t it? One of the reasons I don’t like the contemporary church’s use of the term “owner” to describe church members is the connotation it carries. Members don’t own the church. They didn’t bleed for it, die for it, or call it their wife. They don’t get to say that they own it… but neither does the pastor. It’s God’s church and we as pastors need to trust that God will accomplish His will in that church with or without us.

Leaving is one of the parts of ministry that no one enjoys thinking about, much less doing. We give our hearts and our lives to the church and to those we serve. Leaving is painful. And I’m certain that I haven’t always done it well (and wish I could go back to do certain things different in each and every place I’ve served). But these four thoughts have served me well along the way.

How do you leave well?

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