Leaving Ministry Without Losing Your Heart: Part 1

This weekend Leneita, John, Darren, and myself are at The Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Louisville, KY. Leneita, John and Darren are heading up a stack-load of workshops and peer panels. I will be leading a couple of peer panels too. One of the peer panels I am leading is, “How To Leave Ministry Without Losing Your Heart.”

I am sad to say that I know many people in the last year who had to leave or have been forced to leave their ministry. I’m sad by it, since I know the pain that these people, (and their churches), have had to walk through. Being in youth ministry means that we become deeply invested in the people we minister to, and it’s always painful when we have to leave. When we leave situations where there is a challenging ending, it only goes to amplify the hurt and pain we feel already…

I wish I could say I have left previous ministries well… But that is not the case. However, there have been some powerful and painful lessons I have learned along the way that I would like to share. I hope these lessons will help  youth workers consider how to leave well when the time comes. I am very thankful to have learned these lessons and I grateful for an incredible church family that I am blessed to be a part of today. If you are struggling today, know that there is hope for tomorrow…

1)    Dig Deeper Into Quiet Times. Whether it is a good ministry ending or a painfully forced one, it’s imperative that we look to cling to God and dig deeper for his comfort and wisdom. In the past I have made the mistake of allowing my pain and hurt to spew over onto to anyone who would listen to me. While it was good to get things off my chest, it was not helpful for the healing process for myself and those around me. It’s during these times that we cling to God to give us comfort, humility, grace, and healing.

2)    Seek Advice And Support From Outside Your Ministry.  Many times leaving a ministry can be messy and painful when things have not worked out as we hoped and dreamed. Rather than seek advice and support from people inside your current ministry, it’s always good to get impartial “no strings attached” perspective from people outside the ministry we are leaving. It’s not a bad thing to lean on people inside the current ministry, but I have often found that it can get very messy with what people start discussing in the church. Something shared “in confidence” will often get around to others. Save yourself greater hurt and lean on people who are not so close or as fully invested.

3)    Commit to Finishing Well. No matter what the circumstances, it’s always imperative to finish well even if we feel aggrieved. Being Christ-like is paramount. People will often remember more about how we left than they will remember about all we did in the ministry. What impressions are we leaving students, parents, and leaders as finish up our time?

4)    Commit to Protecting The Bride of Christ. At the end of the day, it’s not about you or me. It’s not even about personalities in the church you are leaving. It’s all about Christ and ensuring He is glorified. Often, the ‘regulars’ at church are unaware of conflicts and struggles on church staff or leaders. Unless there is a biblical reason and a biblical way for sharing your struggles with the church, it’s imperative that we protect the Bride of Christ. Many people at your church love being there and have been profoundly impacted by the ministry there. And here’s the deal: God does amazing things in His church despite broken people like you and me. He still wants to impact lives despite some of the broken people who have hurt you. Despite our struggles and hurts, we cannot throw mud at Jesus and his church.

Tomorrow, I will post part 2 of this series. For now, what would you add to this list? What lessons have you learned from leaving well, (or poorly)? 

Phil <><

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