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Along the Journey  |  

The Six Best Practices When Leaving a Church or Ministry

A pastor may consider leaving his church or ministry when she or he feels called to do so if they are experiencing burnout or facing significant conflicts that cannot be resolved.

A more positive reason is that they discern they have accomplished what they set out to do and it is time for a new challenge or opportunity.

These are four main reasons a pastor should consider leaving his church, though there can be others: family health issues, career opportunities for a spouse, a change in vocation, and, or course, retirement.

How a pastoral leader leaves a congregation is arguably as important as the reason for going. In the midst of what can be an emotion-driven experience, it’s helpful to strive to be intentional about leaving well.

Here are six best practices when leaving a church or ministry:

  1. Communicate clearly and honestly with the congregation, staff, and leadership team.
  2. Provide ample notice and transition time for a smooth changeover. Attend to your grief and work around leaving.
  3. Work with the leadership team to identify and attend to transitional matters (e.g., calling an intentional interim). Prioritize your limited time with things and relationships worth investing in.
  4. Respect the confidentiality of sensitive information and avoid gossip. Watch for triangulation, seduction (“please stay”), criticism (“you are abandoning us”), sabotage, and different forms of reactivity (e.g., staff members start to act out).
  5. Maintain positive relationships with the congregation and community members, even after leaving.
  6. Once you decide to leave, let go of expectations, plans, and dreams for the church or ministry—those are no longer your responsibility.

Remember that how you leave your ministry can impact your reputation and the church’s reputation. Following these best practices with intention can help ensure a respectful and smoother transition. Leaving well is a gift to the ministry you leave behind.

~Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at Columbia Theological Seminary.

Along the Journey Dr. G. & Friends