Leaving a ministry is part of being in ministry. Everyone who ministers will do it at least once in their ministry (there are a few who do not, but that is rare). Every exit is different. Every leaving is unique in its details. But there are a few similarities. At the end of your ministry, you will pack up, clean up, and haul multiple carloads of boxes, containers, shelves and other office furniture from your office to your house. You will probably do a lot of thinking about leaving your ministry.
What follows is some of my thoughts on leaving a ministry. Maybe they will encourage you in your ministry. Maybe they will make you laugh. Maybe they will give you the resolve to keep going. Maybe they will be the same thoughts you are having about your ministry. Whatever it is they are to you, I pray it is helpful.
Reflections on: leaving a ministry:
- There is never a good time to leave. Regardless of what you might think or feel, it is never a good time to leave. When things are going well - you don't want to miss out on the joys and growth. when things are going bad - you feel like you are just running from something that is difficult.
- There is a God time to leave. This is the "time" where God leads you to leave. It could be when things are going well (like Gerrard) or it could be when things are not going so well (like a youth minister I know who got forced out because the sr. minister wouldn't resign after moral failure). But when it comes to God time, you can't plan it. You don't know when it is coming until it gets there. Though you can't plan it, you need to be ready for it.
- There is a difference between being a minister and doing ministry. One is the job title and one is a lifestyle. You can leave one, but you can't get away from the other.
- Its hardest to leave the students. Now, don't misunderstand me on this one. Saying goodbye to the adults and parents is difficult. But, for me, saying goodbye to the students is even harder. On some level, the adults "understand" the process more and adjust more to the situation (either good or bad). But its trying to respond to those students who says things like ... "Have you thought about staying in the area?" "Why do you have to go?" "Don't forget to stay in contact." "What am I going to do without you around?" Leaving those students who have allowed you to enter their world is one of the toughest things I've ever had to do.
- Awkwardness is normal. Most people do not know what to say. The other people can't really say what they are thinking (because they don't want to really hurt your feelings) or they just don't want to talk to you. Because of this, it is awkward to be there on Sunday after it is announced you are leaving. I think that even though you may feel, as the youth minister, you are the only person feeling awkward - you need to remember that others are feeling awkward, too.
- You have to trust God. You may know where you are going next. You may be clueless, without any leads. No matter what you know, you have to trust God to take care of you. This trust might be financially, with your job, with your reputation or something else. Regardless of what happened (good or bad, right or wrong) God is bigger than the situation. God is bigger than your worries. God is bigger than your bills. God is bigger than everything. He will take care of you. It may not always be comfortable, but God will provide.
- Integrity is crucial. When leaving a ministry, always act above reproach. Do not say hurtful or harsh words about others (even if it is the truth). Do not try to stir the pot. Maintain a level of integrity that brings glory and honor to God. Finish strong. Whether you will see anyone from that church again or not does not matter, you must continue to act in a Christlike manner.