Leaving. It pretty much sucks. It doesn’t matter if you’re the leaver or the one being left. Whether you are leaving under the best of circumstances or the direst of situations is irrelevant. Leaving sucks. Plan and simple.
In the past six months – I have experienced both. I’ve been left by a senior pastor I dearly love. And I have, later down the line, left a church I loved. There are a few lessons I’ve gleaned from those experiences.
If you are the one leaving, you should go with a few items in tact:
1) Your integrity. People have been watching, learning, and loving under your ministry and shepherding….possibly for years. Lacking integrity as you leave can erase years of amazing ministry. Don’t spend all your budget money before you go. Don’t bad-mouth people on your way out – even if they deserve it. Tell the truth – even if it stings. In leaving my last church, I wanted to sugar-coat and gloss over some issues that were problematic for me. But I had a good friend essentially call me a liar (and rightly so) for not being honest. The truth can be told in love – and people see through the bull. So tell the truth – live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Protect integrity.
2) Your relationships. I used to be a supporter of ‘love them until you leave’ – then let the next guy love them and stay out of his or her way. And while I still believe that ‘leavers’ must make room for new shepherds to gain their footing, there’s no way you’ve truly shepherded people if you can just walk away and abandon all relationships. Know that, for a time, you’ll need to walk a fine line between continuing relationships and interfering in future ministry – but God gave you those relationships for a reason. Abandoning them means disregarding your previous years of ministry. (That being said, some people are toxic….it’s OK to abandon them!)
3) Your ministry. The smartest shepherds leave their pasture ready for a new shepherd. Hopefully you have regarded your sheep and ministry enough to have mechanisms in place for ministry to continue well beyond your departure. If you haven’t, consider getting as much in place as you can before you leave. Nothing devastates a ministry more than being ‘left in the lurch’, so to speak. Leave well – with administrative and ministerial ducks in a row so that God’s ministry through you continues long after your farewell.
If you are the one being left, consider these thoughts:
1) God always protects His mission beyond any person. God has a vision for your church. No one can thwart that. Sometimes, we worry that the church will not withstand the pastor leaving. (I know I did). And sometimes it doesn’t. (We didn’t.) But I know God’s plan is never thwarted by man – no matter how the picture looks on the outside.
2) It’s rarely personal. I don’t get my feelings hurt much (or at least I act like I don’t.) But there’s been a time or two where I really took the departure of a pastor or key leader personally (when it really wasn’t, at all.) Even if you are in disagreement with their exit, love them and continue to walk with them in ministry. It’s a balm for your soul and theirs.
3) You are still there for a purpose. Seek that out. Don’t miss God’s plan for you while licking your wounds. Shepherd as best you can and seek His guidance and direction for you and the ministry you lead. People are depending on that. Use this time to point them (and yourself) to the One who is truly, always, dependable.
Leaving sucks. There’s no way around it. So embrace it – in all its glory. Walk through it – regardless on which side of the leaving you find yourself. God saw it coming before you did – and He was already holding you anyway. Trust in His heart for His vision for such a time as this.