Deciding to leave a church is one of the most difficult things you will do in pastoral ministry. Here are some proven ways to help you avoid the pitfalls and misunderstandings that inevitably come during this time.
Realize that there will be people who are deeply saddened by your departure and they will grieve over the loss of their pastor. There are also some who will not be affected at all. There will be a group that will be glad you are leaving. You do have responsibilities to all these groups. You have the responsibility to leave the church in a way that honors Christ and brings the greatest peace and unity to His church.
1. Bathe everything in prayer. Why? Because leaving a church is serious business.
2. Communication is essential at every level. You need to talk this out with trusted advisors.
3. Put your expectations in writing. This is as much for you as it is for your people.
- Ask for a severance package or whatever is deemed appropriate. This should include your entire pay package, housing, insurance, car allowance, not just the salary portion.
- Spell out the amount of money you are expecting to receive.
- Spell out how you are willing to accept the payments weekly, monthly, quarterly, or in one lump sum.
- Spell out whether or not you are owed vacation time.
- Be specific about the days. (Your last day of ministry; your last day in the pulpit; your last day for Wednesday study; your last day in the office)
- Be specific about items you intend to take with you. (Books, computers, office furniture, etc.)
4. Once you have completed #3, meet with two or three trusted advisors and discuss this plan with them. Ask for their input and listen well to their counsel.
5. You should view this document as a contract with the church. Help your advisors to see it the same way.
- The document should begin with a statement about how you came to the conclusion that it was God’s will for you to leave.
- It should also include a statement that goes something like this, “It is my desire to leave the church in a way that honors Christ, glorifies God, and brings the greatest unity and peace to the church.”
- It should also include a plan for how ministry responsibilities will be covered once you are gone. Who will visit hospitals? Who will determine the pulpit supply? Will the Director of Missions, Regional Superintendent, etc. be involved? What specific steps are laid out by the by-laws?
6. Once your advisors have given the go ahead to your exit strategy, you should plan a meeting with the deacons (or your leadership team) and go over every detail of the document with them.
- Invite them to ask any questions.
- Ask for their advice on how to share this information with the church body.
- Again, your goal is to provide godly leadership and the smoothest and easiest transition to the church family.
7. Ask the deacons/leadership to pray for you and your family while you complete your ministry at the church.
8. Plan to preach at least one message on “Trusting God in Uncertain Times”. This will be good for you and for your congregation.
Pastors, you are not alone. We are here to help you navigate through the unique challenges of pastoral ministry. Reach out to us at careforpastors.org.