How To Leave Well

79167807As a former pastor’s wife, I’ve wanted for a long time to write a post titled “How To Leave A Church Well.”  When I look back on our 20+ years of church ministry, the biggest pain points were connected to people leaving the church.

It wasn’t that they actually left.  It was HOW they left.

Church leaders know that people will come and people will go. They expect that to happen to a certain extent.

What no heart can be prepared for is the crickets. You know the silent slip out the door without as much as a thank you.

Thank you for dropping everything and coming to the hospital when our son was in his accident.

Thank you for meeting with me weekly when my wife left.

Thank you for the marriage counseling you and your wife provided when we were in a crisis.

Thank you for organizing meals when I went through my cancer journey. 

No ministry couple gives to get. When you go into ministry, you know that serving is what is needed.  However, you’re human and you are touched positively and negatively by the actions of others.

Please, if you’re going to leave a church that has made any investment in your life, take time to thank those who invested in you and let them know personally of your decision to attend elsewhere.

You won’t hurt them more by having the conversation.  You’ll hurt them more by NOT having the conversation.

My friend, Angie Reedy, recently wrote about the topic of leaving well. Her words express my feelings well and they were written to encourage all of us to leave well, in general.

Do you need to move on in some area of your life? May Angie’s words give you additional direction for how to leave a positive lasting impression.

Angie 3_2012If first impressions matter, then last ones do too.

I’ve spent hours planning a first day of work outfit, deciding what to say when meeting someone for the first time, or memorizing the right descriptors I’ll use to introduce myself. A smart suit. A warm smile. A witty response. All good for the firsts.

But what about the last? The last impression is just as important because it’s based on so much more than outer appearances. It’s about grace, character, and leaving a good reputation.

It’s important to stick with our commitments, be someone to count on, and not take the easy way out. But we change and life circumstances change. Through all of the changes, our commitments evolve and sometimes it become obvious that the time to move on to a new season is now.

So how do we graciously stop doing something that we’ve always done? Let’s start with these:

  1. Be truthful about the reasons for leaving. Easy if you’re moving out of town. More difficult for most everything else. If you’re leaving for a less than positive reason, don’t lie. Don’t make up an excuse. Your friends are smart and they’ll see right through it. Affirm the good things about the group, but state a careful explanation about why it’s time for a change.
  2. Be kind. Once the decision to leave is made, it’s not time to bombard the group with a million ways they could be better. Be respectful to the group and affirm support of each individual in their involvement in the group.
  3. Be available. Especially if your leaving will create a vacancy in a leadership position, offer to meet with your successor. Document helpful tips of wisdom you have gleaned in the position.
  4. Keep in touch. Leaving a group doesn’t mean friendships with individuals need to end. Maybe there will be just one or two people to remain in contact with. Make specific effort to exchange contact information with them. Then be the one to initiate a friendship outside of the group.

These ideas are certainly not the easy way out.  It would be less painful to simply turn and walk the other way. But the easy way out is hardly ever the right way out. Put in the extra effort and challenge to leave a good last impression.

What about you? Would you add any other suggestions to what Angie and I have shared?


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7 thoughts on “How To Leave Well

  1. Thanks Jill, great timing for me. I am leaving my church/school which is where I also work, well my whole family is leaving. Though we are leaving for the “easy” reason. we are moving to anther state for my husband’s job. I’ve held many positions of leadership and have slowly given most away. But there will be some that still need to be resolved. I currently teach a mommy and me 2’s class, and they don’t know that I am leaving in December. I was hoping we would have a teacher soon to replace me. I would rather tell them then. I didn’t tell them right away as I didn’t want to “scare them off”, but as we “bond” I am feeling like a traitor not being fully honest with them. I can’t not tell them for much longer.

  2. Amen! Thanks Jill and Angie! As a ministry leader, this really hit home, as this has also been my biggest pain point in ministry so far. These words really resonated with me: “What no heart can be prepared for is the crickets. You know the silent slip out the door without as much as a thank you.” So, so true! I find that for me, the result of a silent exit is the temptation of the human response to want to guard my heart and close myself off to those I’m called to serve. To try and somehow protect myself from future hurt. Once someone leaves silently, it’s easy to look around the room at others thinking “who’s next?”, and it makes it that much harder to show up and give 110%. As you say, “You won’t hurt them more by having the conversation. You’ll hurt them more by NOT having the conversation.” Absolutely! Leaving silently also puts the leader on the hot seat for having to answer the questions of others (which are inevitable!) about why someone has left. How awkward, especially when the real answer hasn’t been communicated! When someone moves away, it’s sad, but typically they leave with tears, prayers, blessings and a reminder of the way God has worked in our lives and community. Warm fuzzies abound, and it’s easy to let go gracefully. When it’s a silent leaving, there’s hurt. God really has to work in the leader’s heart to heal and allow them to still let go with grace and blessing. It’s a good reminder that He alone provides the strength to press on in what we’re called to, in good times and bad! Thanks for the reminders on how to leave well.

    • Adrienne, thank you for sharing your experience. I wish it was easier for those of us in ministry, but maybe this post helped one person do the right thing when leaving.

  3. This is very good advice and I have been on both sides of the door….My one thought to add is that while you absolutely should be truthful about your reasons for leaving, not every single person needs an in-depth explanation. A simple statement that you’ve prayed over with your family will do for most people. Those friends that have really impacted your life deserve a bit more, of course, but please don’t feel pressure to give everyone who asks the detailed story. It’s really just between you and God anyways…ask Him for wisdom about who to share more details with.

  4. But what do you do when you try to leave well and it doesn’t work out so well?! We needed to leave a church; God gave us clear notice it was time. We were very active in the church for three years and started to give personal notice to those in leadership positions within the church that we were leaving. We tried to be briefly honest, but we were met with great hostility even before we left. We had a trip planned (actually for us to meet us with another family so the moms could go to the National Hearts at Home Conference) and they knew about it, but still charged us with leaving without saying goodbye, and basically blamed us if everything fell apart at the church. Wrote us nasty emails about saying how we weren’t Christians, but in the same email asking how were they going to function without us. Needless to say, we contacted a few more people by phone, but we did not go back after we returned from our trip. I offered to help with giving over things we were responsible for and basically was never contacted by anyone other than a few really close friends. I don’t know that it was the right way, but the hateful emails and FB messages I received made it really hard to want to go back and subject my family to it. We didn’t want to create a scene or air the church’s dirty laundry. It made it clear to me we did not need to be there.

    • Hollylyn, what a sad, sad situation. Unfortunately we can do the right things but we can still be affected when others make poor choices. That’s what seemed to happen in this case. More than anything, though, I would think that this confirmed that your decision to leave was the absolute right decision.