Leaving With Grace- How to Successfully Leave Your Church In Times of Transitions.

By: Cody Bauman
Completed on 03.06.2017

3 months ago, I was asked to write this article; and although I have given a range of excuses why I didn’t have it done yet; the truth was it’s just not a fun topic to write about. You see three months ago I was once again in my transition and I didn’t want people to see the pain that leaving yet another group of amazing students was doing to my heart.  Leaving a ministry behind, is never something I look forward to; but desiring to advance my career, pay the bills, or offer a more stable situation for my family, seems to have moved me more times than I wish to count.

Every time you are given a chance to reach into the life of students and walk with their families through the adolescent world they live in; you are given a chance to be real.  In my opinion, that is not something every profession is allowed to do in our world anymore.  So leaving that real encounter that merges at the intersection of Sharing God’s Unfailing Love, Supporting students on their turf, and being the master of all things a youth minister does; seems to bring a large bag of mixed emotions.


No matter if you are leaving by your own doing or from some other party telling you its time to head to a new chapter; it is important to remember that you have ALWAYS been a safety net and calm water in the students crazy life and they will need you to continue to do that now more than ever.

Yes, you will want to tell people what is really going on, and you will want your side of the truth to be told, but that is not always what is needed.  I would like to offer you a few suggestions here on how to make the most of your exiting.  Remember if you are leaving a ministry that has any substance at all, then you need to lift this ministry up, not tear them down while you are leaving. In a few weeks you will be gone, you will not have to deal with all this anymore, stay strong, and do the very best for the Students you have poured time and energy into.  Remember if you leave it better than you found it, then no one should be able to blame you if something goes wrong in the future. You can still build your legacy.

  1. 6-12 Months.  I never leave a church without having a 6-12 month plan in place for my volunteers or staff.  If you can have 6-12 months of curriculum for Sunday Mornings and whatever evenings your ministry has in place; then the ministry can really co-pilot until they find your successor.  Copy, items, provide materials, etc. Remember to lift up not tear down.

  2. Give it All Away. You should also plan to leave a copy of every single document and flyer and item you created while you served at your church.  My favorite way to do this, is by getting a google drive account.  Upload a copy of everything that your successor could possibly use.  Then all you have to leave on the desk is a piece of paper that says start here and the login information. Remember You Do this For The Students.
  3. Successor??? That is correct when you pack your stuff, no matter the reason, you have to help the volunteers and students you leave behind be successful.  If you take all the documents and shred them or wipe the computer off cause you are hurt.  You are not shoving it to the senior pastor or personal committee chair.  They will never look at that laptop.  You are hurting the students. You are hurting the future of the program that you have poured blood, sweat and tears into.  Help the next person build off the ministry you created. They will probably change it eventually, but really they need to spend the first 3-6 months just trying to get to know the students, not writing curriculum.
  4. Be Politically Correct.  The truth is there are many churches that would just assume that you disappear, especially if you are let go.  It may take some major negotiating to even be able to say goodbye to your students.  If this is the case, then you CANNOT use this as a springboard to criticize the higher powers. You MUST use this as a time to tell students that you still love them and that more importantly God will always love them.  Also use this to assure them that a plan is in place to make sure that THEY will still have a ministry.
  5. The Truth. There are going to be people who you want to tell the truth to. If you feel that you can better their lives or the future of the ministry by them knowing what happened; then ask them to have coffee away from the church and before saying anything make sure that what you say to them can stay in confidence.  THIS IS NOT GIVING YOU PERMISSION TO DUMP ALL YOUR PROBLEMS ON THEM OR TO RIP THE CHURCH INTO SHREDS. The truth is your closest people, especially if they have become your friends, have probably already checked on you long before you talk to the students.
  6. Just Don’t Do It. Do Not, Do Not, Do Not use social media to slander the church. It is not healthy and makes you look foolish. It also shows an unhealthy side to the church to the students. I know that students already know that flawed people run the church, but you want them to feel welcome and that their church is a safe place for them to be.
  7. You Are Not Jesus. You are expendable. I realize these words can hurt.

  8. Contacting People After You Leave, especially students. This is very simple but incredibly hazardous to the future of the youth program if you do not handle it properly. This is also my biggest transitional pet peeve. Sorry, you are no longer the youth worker, so you must leave this world and these people behind… it’s really that simple.  Whenever I have left a church, when I have that closing meeting to say goodbye, I say something like “If you want to talk after I leave you will have to contact me.”

    If a student or parents contacts you, then I do not think it would be a problem for you to answer their questions. Don’t tell them that your entire sad story every time they call. Be an adult and keep your laundry put away.  Again, if they ask you something you do not need to lie, but you do not have to tell them all the details of your new life, if they do not ask.  Keep it simple and peaceful.  Remember you were a “pastor-like figure” in their lives before, so you must always be that way, if you are contacted.

    But if it comes to matters of the church or to how to deal with conflict within the youth, you must tell them to ask the current youth worker. That is no longer your turf.

  9. Why you should move away. Or at least attend a different church.  Being in the same place is not only unhealthy for you, but it is unhealthy for the students. If you are planning to stay in the same house anyway; then you need to know it is likely you will see some of the same people.  But it will feel awkward now, because you do not have a common thread with many of these people anymore.  It actually is harder on your family and now your former students if you stay connected in your church. You do not carry that same role anymore and students many times have no idea how to separate you from that place. Also, if you previously would have invited youth to your birthday parties, that idea is no longer acceptable.  Remember you are no longer their Youth Worker.
  10. Breathe. Yeah this sucks for a while…possibly a long while.  Find a group of people who you can talk to. Hopefully you have friends that are outside of the church. If you do not, then please find a licensed counselor, another youth worker, or outside person to speak to.  You may have amazing friends inside the church, but they are to involved in the situation to be able to look at it from an outsiders viewpoint.

I realize that typing all this on a sheet of paper does not make it easy.  There is a great book that helped me through one of my hardest transitions.  The book is called “Moving on. Moving Forward”  by Michael Anthony and Mick Boersma.


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