When a pastor leaves a church, whether to move from one church to another or out of ministry, following certain courtesies and guidelines eases the transition for the departing minister and the new minister, and makes the transition easier for the church members and staff. Choosing to ignore them creates problems for all involved.
Provide advance notice that you are leaving and set an exit date. Explain why you are leaving with a short, simple explanation that will satisfy many and stem the gossip. Keep your resignation statement positive, no matter why you are leaving.
Exit publicly with as little drama as possible. Don’t hide your exit or leave people wondering about your exit plans. Set a date, pack your personal things and leave gracefully. Speak positively about the church and the membership during the exit and beyond.
Help the church leadership and staff to plan what to do when you leave. Suggest any denominational resources to ease the transition, such as speaker resources or transition help. If your denomination has a transitional minister program, recommend that they explore that option. A transitional minister helps the church through the grief process, to choose goals for the future and to accept a new minister.
Leave on the best possible terms. Tell the church what they do right, that they will be fine without you and that you know they will find the next right minister. Emphasize your good memories of the church. Thank them for lessons learned and experiences that helped you grow.
End division with those you have had problems with in the past. Don’t leave them with unforgiveness and don’t take anger and unforgiveness with you. Leave no unfinished personal business that can be made right.
Grieving is Necessary
Compassionately deal with those who grieve your leaving. Acknowledge their feelings and pray with them. Accept their grief as healthy and encourage them to take time to grieve. Suggest support systems they can use such as church leaders, prayer ministers and counselors.
Assist your family to prepare for the leaving. Allow them to grieve. If you are leaving under less than positive conditions, urge them not to make the situation worse with negative comments.
Prepare notes for your successor or the transitional minister. For example, where she might find necessary resources or liturgical equipment. Suggest who might be willing to offer assistance and support. Make your notes positive.
Don’t go back to the church for at least a year or more. Gracefully decline opportunities to marry or bury people at the church. Suggest using the new minister or conduct the service in a neutral location.
Take time to grieve and assess what you did right and wrong in your pastoring of the church. Take pride in your successes and accept your failures. Thank those who contributed to your success and forgive those who antagonized you. Make resolutions about what you might do differently in the future. Begin a new church assignment with a clear slate.
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