Almost all Christian leaders, as some point in their ministry life will find themselves leaving a ministry role, either through their own choice, or through the choice of the organization. In a recently conversation with a graduate of Kingswood University, I told them there are 2 critically important moments in the life of a pastor which need to be navigated with great skill and care.
#1 How you begin your ministry in a new location is VERY important (first impressions, can either work for you, or will work against you the entire time you are in that ministry role). Begin your ministry role with humility, listening, asking lots of questions, building warm relationships, and helping the church gain some quick wins. It is almost always best to honor the past, before moving a ministry into the future. Quickly and sincerely recognize and honour those who have contributed to the health and success of the local ministry, before you arrived.
#2 How you leave a ministry role. The truth of the matter is … people vividly remember how you begin and how you end, and usually forget almost all your ministry efforts in-between. How a person leaves a ministry role can haunt them for years and years to come. For instance, I know of a person who recently left a ministry role and in their anger they intentionally damaged some of the church’s office equipment. I don’t know anything about that person’s work ethic or the quality of their years of service over the preceding years of ministry, but I can tell you I would probably never, ever, ever recommend that person for a ministry role in and through Christ’s church … even if they had been the best and most productive employee in the preceding years of ministry. I know of others who have gotten in a snit, gotten their nose out of joint at a local church, and left the parsonage or office in a shambles … and others who threatened to sue the church, etc. As a church leader, I know I would absolutely refuse to hire them or recommend them to any church, any ministry role on the planet, even if the person felt their departing attitudes and actions were justified.
How you leave a church or ministry role is, in my opinion, critically important to your future employability and to your ongoing spiritual and emotional well-being and that of your family. AND … if you damage the reputation of that church, and thus reduce the likelihood of people getting saved in that community through the future ministries of that church, and those lost people end up spending eternity in hell … do we think God will be pleased with us (1Cor. 3:17 – a huge warning). Don’t do anything which would damage the future effectiveness of that church as a Christian witness in that community.
So … in answer to the question concerning how to leave a ministry role … especially if you believe the church treated you badly … take the high road, leave quietly and with dignity. Don’t talk negatively about the church or its people … publicly speak only about the good times and the positive things that happened in the past, and save your negative talk for your accountability partners or for a wise Christian counselor with whom you can talk honestly and privately share about your personal wounds, hurts and disappointments. And … DO NOT talk negatively about the church to your spouse or your children. Do you seriously want to run the risk of predisposing them to think badly and distrustfully of Christ’s church. Keep the sharing of your wounds and disappointments only for your accountability partners.
During times of transition it is time to genuinely believe three Biblical insights.
a. God brings good from bad (Rom. 8:28 & Gen. 50:20). If we truly stand on the promises of God, and continue to love and trust Him, He will bring good out of bad, even when the bad is malicious and purposeful.
b. Accept the fact that your perspective may be correct, but incomplete. Often there is more going on in a situation, than what we know. I believe it was Spurgeon who said, “Give God credit that He knows things you don’t know“. It could very well be true that there is more going on in this situation, than what you are aware of, and God may be actually protecting you from future pain (see Is. 57:1-2 as an example of people not fully understanding and seeing what God sees).
c. God often uses strained relationships to bring about future good (see Acts 15:36- 41). In this biblical example, Paul and Barnabas (former, very close friends) had a significant difference of opinion … so serious that it caused them to part company with one-another. In hindsight we see God used that fractured relationship to double the number of teams sharing the gospel around the Mediterranean Sea. Sometimes God makes leaving easier, by allowing former close relationships to become strained.
No doubt … sometimes carnal and self-serving interests within a church causes serious pain to the pastoral family. Sometimes it is best if the pastoral family just moves onto another ministry location, in order to protect the emotional, spiritual, financial and relational well-being of the pastoral family. Sometimes the differences in vision, ministry philosophy, and ministry strategies are just too insurmountable to stay. Sometimes the meanspirited attitudes and actions of others are too much to bear, and Christ’s words to His disciples to ‘leave and shake the dust from your feet’ are our marching orders (Matt. 10:14)
And the truth be told … sometimes, later on in life, we come to understand that the tense relationship we had a church MAY have been a problem of our own making and immaturity … and that the church was actually right to get rid of us. Thus, don’t be too quick to judge the church for how it treated you. Sometimes, in hindsight, we can see that they were actually right and we were actually the ones in the wrong.