Recently I received the following question. It’s one I’ve been asked several times and one I know is more common as an issue than even asked. I’ve omitted some details for obvious confidentiality reasons, but kept the intent of the question the same.
I am writing you seeking counsel regarding a significantly large decision my wife and I need to make about our continued service at a local church. The church is in turmoil and my wife and I feel released from our commitment here. Leaving is probably the best option, but how do I know for sure and how do I leave “properly”?
Here is my expanded reply:
Leaving is never easy, but many times, even in the worst situations, it can be done in a way that doesn’t further disrupt the church. First, you might consider these two posts:
You need to discern first if you definitely feel released to leave and then if you are leaving. It may not be worth putting the energy into deciding how to leave until you decide that you are. If that’s where you are headed…
Here are 7 Tips for leaving “properly”:
1. Make it a decision of prayer and conviction. The more you can remove your personality or personal comfort from the process, the more likely you will be able to convince people you are leaving on good terms and that you are following God’s will and not your own. (As I mentioned previously, it may be that God has released you to make the decision. I find that true many times. Your first step, in my opinion, is to make sure you aren’t violating something God has told you to do or not to do.)
2. Start properly. I know. This is a post about leaving. But, honestly, that process starts long before the door swings closed. The sooner you start preparing people for your eventual exit, the easier your exit will be accepted by people when you do leave. Help cross train for your area. Identify key leaders who could fill in for an interim. You don’t even have to share all this information, but be thinking ahead of time who those people might be. Start making lists of things you do that others may not know. Think in terms of “if I’m not here, then…” and write some of that stuff down to share when you leave.
3. Discuss with and seek wisdom from one or two people you trust, who know you and the church. You’ll need a sounding board to help you confirm your decision, but also to help determine the timing and approach of your exit.
4. Develop a plan, with counsel and prayer, of how and when you intend to proceed. You’ll need to decide who to contact first, when, and how to tell the church. This will likely be different for every church.
5. Don’t throw punches on the way out. There’s never a win and often a lasting negative when a person lashes out in the final days of their involvement with a church. Any credibility gained can be quickly lost based on the way the person handles their exit.
5. Work to protect spouses and children. Ministry can be very cruel and may even get ugly before it heals. Don’t allow your family dynamic to suffer because of the problems of the church.
6. Prepare your own emotions. It is likely to be hard leaving, even if things are miserable at the time. Chances are you’ve invested your heart in this church. You started with vision and enthusiasm. You felt a call to go there. You never intended things to turn out like this. Regardless of why you are leaving or what you are going to do next, it won’t be easy walking away from something you have loved.
7. Don’t end when you walk out the door. Be available to further assist them as needed in the months after you leave. It may not be welcomed or needed but offering is the graceful way to exit and the right thing to do.
Make this post better:
What would you add about leaving properly? Have you ever left when the church or organization was in turmoil? How did you handle your exit? Looking back, what did you learn to help others?