How to Leave a Church Without Hurting Students

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Let Your Good-bye be Good

[tweetthis]Eventually we’ll all leave our #youthmin position. Have a good goodbye.[/tweetthis]

It happens to the best of us sooner or later.  Sometimes it is our decision made willingly, other times forces and circumstances beyond our control propel us.  I am, of course, talking about leaving.  It might be leaving the country, leaving town, leaving a church, or maybe just leaving a particular position within a church.

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places…”

Your leaving will be stressful for the youth.  If you care about them, do what you can to minimize this stress. Midterms and finals are not good times to leave.  Most often we have some measure of control over the exact time of our departure.  I would look for “pleasant places” whenever possible.  Youth already expect regular and repeated times of transition – semester breaks, end-of-the-year, summer vacation.  Try to schedule your leaving at one of these natural “boundary lines.”

Celebrate

Allow your ministry to throw a party for you.  Don’t be too busy.  This will be good for everyone involved.   Good things have happened, remember them and celebrate!  This is an opportunity for the youth to tell you just how much you meant to them.  It is also a chance for you to tell them what an important part of your life they have been.  Describe how your future ministries will be influenced by knowing and working with them.  Remember to let them know you will remember them.

Allow time to grieve

Know now that you will grieve at some point after you leave.  Your ministry has been your life.  The youth have been “your kids.”  Your car knows which way to go when you leave your house.  You have had a routine that has now been taken from you (even if it was with your permission).  Grieving is to be expected to some degree.  Although grieving is expected, it should not dominate.  Be sure to have a trusted friend you can discuss your feelings with.  It is entirely possible that the “honeymoon” phase of your new position will overcome any sadness associated with leaving the old.  The most important thing is to be ready.

Move on

It is important to put the past behind you.  That can be very difficult in this age of pervasive social media and electronic connectivity.  A decision to leave was made, honor that decision.  It will be tempting to maintain contact with youth from your previous position but you need to move on and you need to let them move on, too.  You will have a new ministry and they will have a new leader.  Don’t undermine the authority of the new leader by continuing to converse with those who are now his/her responsibility.

We all have to learn how to deal with loss in a healthy way.  Insisting on maintaining past relationships with youth deprives them of that learning experience.  You also need to sit down with yourself and have a very honest and serious conversation about what need you are satisfying in yourself by maintaining the relationship.

“Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.

You may be one of those unfortunate persons who has been unjustly accused or forced out because of a personality conflict or any number of other reasons.  Leaving is NOT your opportunity to get vengeance on the person(s) who have wronged you.  Destroying a youth ministry might feel good in some perverse way for a brief time, but it is not good for you, it is certainly not good for the youth and it is never good for the Kingdom of God.

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Scot is a pastor, potter, poet, and photographer. He received a MDiv from Asbury Seminary in 2013. He serves at Grassland Community Church near Ashland, KY. Scot and his wife, Pat, (who is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church) have three beautiful daughters scattered from Ohio to Kentucky to the US Virgin Islands. Scot loves nature and is passionate about “seeing the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” and preparing a new generation of leaders with fire in their bones.

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