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July 10, 2012

Leaving a Church without Burning a Bridge

by Justin Williams
burning-bridges

In the past ten years I have had the amazing privilege to serve in multiple churches.  Each of them I left in a different manner.  Some, I left because of differences, others  due to pursuing different areas of ministry, and on the one occasion a lack of calling to that ministry.  It is important to note that leaving a church is never an easy thing to do.  Once you commit to serving within a church you automatically begin developing bonds and relationships.  Those bonds soon become family ties, and when those ties are broken due to a resignation emotions immediately flare. 

The loss of a senior pastor is like a family losing its father, and the loss of a support pastor (youth, children, worship, etc.) is like a family losing a child.  It is a heart wrenching experience that cannot be fully described.  I announced my resignation a few weeks ago, and I have been looking for the perfect time to announce it to the congregation.  Unfortunately, due to many of our people being on vacation I was not able to gather everyone together.  I realized last week that it could not wait any longer. There is never a good time, or an easy way of telling your church family that you are leaving, but it had to be done.  This past Sunday was a sad day, but I look forward to a bright future for my family, and an even brighter one for Brand New Church of Huntsville.  

The hardest thing I have found about leaving a church is explaining the WHY factor.  Once, again this is another one of those things that is neither easy nor fully explainable, especially in my current circumstance.  There are no major conflicts, I’m not being called to a different church, and it’s not that I don’t see any potential for this church.  In reality, the core group is strong, I am very content with my role, and I am fully confident God is going to do some amazing things with BNC Huntsville.  The reality of the matter is that I am not the man God has in store to take it to the next level. 

With that being said and with my past experience it is so important that this transition go as smoothly as possible. 

Here are some tips that I have compiled that will help clergy leave a church without burning a bridge, and help congregations overcome the loss of a leader. 

Tips for Clergy

  • Be 100% sure you are making the right decision before mentioning anything about leaving.  (I have seen so much damage done to churches where the pastor has resigned multiple times)
  • Be open to the Holy Spirits leading when announcing your resignation, and be prepared for emotional and aggressive responses.
  • Handle each response diligently with discernment and care.  Express love and understanding. Be prepared in some cases to say nothing at all.  Sometimes people just need to be heard, and want to know that you are aware of their hurt. 
  • Be aware of your non-verbal communication.  Your attempt to be humble and righteous can come across as prideful, passive, and self-righteous.
  • Don’t segregate yourself hoping things will pass.  Be proactive about communicating your love for your congregation.
  • Give plenty of notice, but not too much notice.
  • Serve passionately every Sunday till your last.
  • Remember you are not the head of the church, get over yourself.  Christ is the head and is in control.  Theocratic churches will survive. 
  • Realize each church is different, and approach each as such
  • Pray for God’s continued provision and protection upon that church.
  • Don’t be afraid to stay in contact with some of the members.
  • ALWAYS speak positively and affectionately about the church you are leaving or have left.  It is the bride of Christ.
  • Be aware of how you communicate your emotions after leaving.  I left a church one time, and had so much excitement about returning home and starting a new ministry that I offended some of the folks I previously served with.  Remember that your social media is public.
  • Good pastors develop leaders from the moment they start, and leave a church with a strong leadership team that can carry on the vision. 
  • The list goes on.  What are some tips you have for clergy leaving a church?

I should mention that I have not always done such a good job at each of these.

Tips for Congregations

  • Love your pastor in spite of how you are feeling.  Know that is not easy for him.
  • Remember his entire family.  Find ways to make this transition as smoothly as possible for him and his family.
  • Don’t take anything personal, and know that there are many factors that led to this decision outside of you.
  • Remember Christ is the head of the church, and your affection and spiritual growth should be focused on him.
  • Carry out the vision, and be steadfast in your service.
  • Begin diligently praying for your pastor, and about who God will lead to be the new pastor.
  • Always speak positively and affectionately about the pastor.  He is God’s anointed servant.
  • Be patient and know that God is in control. 

For my current church know that I do love each of you, and wish you the best.

For pastors who are struggling with making a big decision like this I don’t envy you.  Just be honest and real with your people.

For churches struggling with a loss, hang in there God will see you through it. 

Please feel free to share your tips and comments below.  Know that I am not an expert on this, and I only wish to share my knowledge and experience.

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