Regardless of the circumstances, changing ministry roles is difficult. Even in the best of situations, emotions run high, and stress abounds. Years of fruitful ministry can be severely damaged if a transition is not handled well. Likewise, leaving well can imprint a positive memory of you and your time with a church if the transition is handled with grace.
Two important areas come to mind when thinking about how best to transition from one ministry to the next: people and logistics. While these two areas might seem disparate, they’re really intimately connected. People won’t think you truly cared for or about them if you leave them to pick up the pieces of a messy ministry.
Here are some things to consider in regards to people:
Of course, you should have established the habit of communicating well throughout the course of your ministry, but if you didn’t, it’s not too late. Sit down and work through the reasons you are leaving your ministry. Obviously, some things just aren’t appropriate to say, so find the most positive reasons and create a talking point for yourself. When someone asks why you’re leaving, you’ll be ready to give them an answer. Give everyone the same answer. Telling one person one thing and another person something else will only cause suspicion and pain.
Don’t Cast Blame
As hard as it is, blaming others, a senior pastor, board member, parent, or student for your leaving will only leave behind a trail of broken relationships. Everything in you may want to shout from the mountain tops how unjustly you were treated, but don’t do it. Remember, these people have to live and worship together after you leave.
Your Students’ Faith is First
Being shady about the reasons you’re leaving or casting blame on another can significantly spoil the faith of the students you’ve worked so hard to disciple. Whenever you consider saying something negative, ask yourself this question, “Will this help strengthen the faith of our students?” If the answer is no, then don’t say it. Our students have a hard enough time remaining faithful without us behaving badly.
Summarize Your Teaching
Toward the end of your time with your students, it might be a good idea to bring everything you’ve hoped they would have learned from you and lay it out in a succinct message. It might go a long way in helping your students remember the legacy of faithfulness you have attempted to pass on to them.
Many of your students and their families will need closure. While the internet leaves us all connected at the speed of light, nothing can replace the tangible feeling of physical proximity. As best you can, spend as much one on one time with significant students and their families. Hug them, cry with them, and rejoice with them. Say the things you need to say to them (with honesty and grace), and allow them to do the same.
Don’t Check Out
An exciting new ministry may be waiting for you in a new city in less than a month’s time. There will be a great temptation to only look forward to what’s ahead. But remember that the church is still counting on your leadership until the last amen. Finish strong.
Some of the things above will find reinforcement if you spend time wrapping up the logistics of your ministry. Here are some things to consider when passing off those administrative duties:
Create a Plan
There’s a good chance that you already have a 3-6 month plan for your ministry for things like lesson series, calendar items, and details about the upcoming mission trip or camp. If those details are only in your head, put them down on paper. Give the pertinent people digital and paper copies of your plan. Both are easy to lose, so having a backup is always good. It might also be advisable to leave a copy in your office or with your supervisory pastor or secretary.
Leave Detailed Instructions
You’ve spent years perfecting that fall retreat. You’ve learned a lot of good tips and tricks on how to make it successful. If you haven’t already shared those things with the leaders of your ministry, now’s a good time to do it. Write out detailed instructions for all the regular things your ministry does. Then, as with the plan you’ve created, provide digital and print copies to the right people.
Assign Interim Leadership
Choose a person or a group of people who will cover the responsibilities that were yours. Have a sit down meeting with them if possible. Provide all of them with copies of your 3-6 month plan and your detailed list of instructions. Communicate to your pastor or the appropriate person who will be in leadership. Then, at a normal youth group gathering, pass off your responsibilities to them. Find a tangible symbol of each responsibility you’re passing on, and physically hand it to the one assuming the position. For instance, to whoever is assuming the teaching duties, give them a Bible. To the person who will keep the calendar, give them a calendar. It’s symbolic, but it will help your students understand who is in charge of what.
Even in the best of situations, leaving is difficult. If the last few years of your ministry have been difficult, you may even be relieved. Regardless of if you’ve had a great experience or a terrible one, you may have some emotional baggage. Spend some time in prayer and introspection to determine what those things might be. Give them to God and try not to take them into your new ministry.
Remember, grace and forgiveness are essential parts of our faith. You can simultaneously give the gift of grace and forgiveness to the church you’re leaving and the gift of a spiritually healthy pastor to your next church.