I was sitting in my office when it hit me that my time at my current ministry assignment had come to a close. The place where I had grown so much would no longer be mine. But as I began to reflect, I found myself asking if it was ever really mine to begin with. As I pursued future plans for ministry, not knowing where God was leading me, this question kept me grounded and put me back in the shoes of that 14-year-old boy who said he would follow God with his whole heart. Closing this chapter of my life would not be easy. I cared immensely—and still do care—for this church and its faithfulness to God’s mission. I was affirmed of this truth while being reminded that leaving well did not require me to be unconcerned. Plenty of people leave ministry positions. And surely in a time such as this pandemic, ministry leaders have grown weary, dissatisfied, and impatient with their work.
Perhaps you have found conversations with congregants to be more divisive than ever as they enter into political, racial, or societal debates. If you find yourself resonating with any of these feelings amid questions of transition, pause to consider that it might not be God calling you to leave but you wishing for change. I believe that leaving well must include clinging to that first moment of calling, a moment in which God invited us all into something larger than ourselves with no promise of fame, fortune, or grandeur. Rather, God promised a nearness that can only be found through taxing, yet rewarding, everyday work of relationship-building.
That being said, perhaps you, like me several months ago, are truly feeling God pulling your heart elsewhere. Leaving well requires an intentionality that does not always come naturally. Let me suggest a few things:
Make Time to Fast and Pray
First, when you begin to feel these emotions, before you seek the counsel of others, make time to fast and pray. These practices will give you the space to clarify if it is truly God’s voice you are hearing. While the counsel of others is an important resource, these voices can at times create clutter as you seek God’s direction.
Affirm the Good Things
Second, affirm the good things that God has done through you as you have served in this ministry capacity. Take time to praise God for this opportunity. Along with this, hand over the future of this church and ministry to God, affirming that it always belonged to God from the beginning.
Leave Quickly and Quietly
Third, and most importantly, when you leave, do it quickly and quietly. The longer we serve in one place, the more we can feel a desire to validate our impact. And while your time serving was surely filled with progress, remember that it all belongs to God. Many ministry leaders, when leaving, have clung to the future of the church by creating structures and systems for when they are gone. And while this sort of action comes from a deep care for the church, it only creates unnecessary pain for both the leader and the church. Learning to release requires a renewed faith that God will continue to be with us.
Closing this chapter of your life well will not come easily. As you pack your belongings and prepare for days ahead, make time for the best part of the place you are leaving—the people. During a time such as the COVID-19 pandemic, this step requires creativity that only you can envision. As you seek out time with people, whether digitally or in-person, continue to seek a posture that upholds the needs and safety of others. In these goodbyes, as people grieve, remind them that they are in God’s hands, and they always were. While this pandemic is a unique time in our recent history, leaving a ministry assignment well continues to require the same intentionality that it always has. While you may leave behind a world of relationships and memories, you will always have a special place in the hearts of those who you influenced most. Keep them in your prayers and trust that God will continue the work that only God can do.