How to Make a Graceful Church Exit

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Unless you stay at the same church your entire life, you will leave one ministry or church and go to another, perhaps several times.

Unless you stay at the same church your entire life, you will leave one ministry or church and go to another, perhaps several times.

In fact, the average pastor in the U.S. stays at one place about four years.

I’ve served at five different churches in my 33 years in ministry and have always sought to leave well. I’ve learned that leaving is more of an art, and is often difficult.

Here are seven insights I’ve learned that have helped me make a graceful exit.

1. Deal with your baggage.

Leave with a clear conscience that relationships have been made right, as much as is possible.

Acts 24:16 — So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.
Rom. 12:18 — If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone

2. Don’t leave angry.

Process your pain. If you struggle with anger after you leave, get coaching or counseling to avoid bitterness.

Heb. 12:15 — See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

3. Leave on top.

That is, leave your ministry as healthy and as strong as possible.

Col. 3:23 — Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men …

4. Speak well of the former leaders, both lay and paid.

Don’t leave a trail of gossip. Don’t undermine the leaders or anyone else who may have hurt you. Don’t burn bridges.

Leave in such a way that your reputation, and Christ’s, remain intact.

Prov. 22:1 — A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

Charles Stone Dr. Charles Stone is Lead Pastor at West Park Church in London, Ontario, Canada, and the founder of StoneWell Ministries, a pastor coaching and church consulting ministry. He is the author of two books and the newly released book, "People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership" (IVP).

More from Charles Stone or visit Charles at http://www.charlesstone.com/

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  • Ryan

    Well, it’s one thing to make a “Graceful Exit” and quite another to be shown the door. I agree with all the statements in this article and have done all of these in every situation where I am initiating the exit. It is a completely different set of circumstances when you are told to resign, especially for no legitimate reason (legitimate reason being immorality, something illegal, etc.) It is much more difficult to gracefully exit when there are no reasons why nor can anyone explain why. I can’t say God is leading me somewhere else because He didn’t. I can’t say that I feel that my time at XYZ Church is up because I don’t. Obviously I am speaking from experience and it is something I am still struggling with. How do you make a graceful exit when you never really felt it was your time to exit but were told to exit anyway? You can put on a smile and pretend everything is okay inside of you but it’s really not. So my question is this: How do you make a Graceful Church Exit when you never really wanted to exit in the first place? How do you make a Graceful Church Exit when your church is told that you are leaving by your own choice but it wasn’t? I’m sure this is not the only situation like this. Thoughts anyone?

    • RevGKG

      I am a novice in this realm, but my book knowledge gives me the gut feeling that clinging to Phil 4:8 and not dwelling on the things that the people didn’t want, will help transition to the next step in God’s realm. Bitterness and grief are like weeds, and if they are not pulled out by the root as soon as they are recognized it is harder to make resolutions and to step into that next assignment God has ordered. I do know from experience, sometimes I don’t clearly ‘get’ what God is up to until I am in the middle of it! Change isn’t something I like, and as for most of us especially when it is not our idea. But, I am sure with experience, God teaches us Prov 3:5-6 when making those transitions in ministry. We learn to bend, be flexible to walk in God’s leading, and to Trust in the Lord. Does any of this get easier as we get older and wiser? Or, is this not about a biological age but learning Wisdom sooner than later? Just some thoughts to ponder. Thoughts anyone?

    • Lynn Anderson

      I have been there, it was about 9 years ago. It was only in this last year that the pain began to go away. When God placed directly in my path an opportunity to revisit the ministry I was removed from. It was a complete surprize. My open wounds were still oozing. (I had been covering them with bandages and pretended they didn’t exist.) Then this opportunity… but the call to this ministry had been completely refashioned… the structures from before completely erased. The people being served, those whom ended the ministry, clearly still needing this ministry but called by a different name. God was asking me to serve them again through different structure.
      Your removal may not be God’s plan but the plan of a flawed community. But God can transform any situation. Believe in that and wait upon the Lord. Your experience, your pain, your grieving, your giving it over to God will be blessed. This experience will be tranformed to bring you a new awareness, healing and perhaps even another crack at a ministry you were not finished with yet.

    • REVPC

      People are people, leadership books are written to address the same human flaw. id say Rom 8:28, it wont be a meaningful ministry if your always trying to prove yourself, Jesus was nailed on the cross by the very people he loved. all things worked together for good. My personal thought would be just GO (though get was is yours like benefits and whatever), let God lead you were you need to be, God is in control. God is not surprised by what they are doing. I would do my best to open myself to where God would lead me.

  • flesh2spirit

    I am currently being ostracized in my local church based on hearsay. I was not allowed to face my accusers. It is a small family based church. Basically everything besides asking me to leave has been done. At this point, I don’t feel that I can go there & worship God freely,nor follow the leadership. I’ve been unhappy there for a while, but stayed because I felt that God was not leading me elsewhere. Yet, everyone else feels that I must endure the actions that have been taken against me. I’m in a place where my only prayer is Lord help me. How do I possibly leave this situation gracefully?

    • Pastor CSL

      For “flesh2spirit”: I am lifting you in prayer. Not knowing your specific situation, I can’t offer direct advice, but I can tell you some things which have been of help to me in other difficult times in ministry. First, remember that we fight not against flesh or blood. Satan does all he can to discourage those who minister for the Lord. Keep your eyes on Jesus, no matter what folks say about you. I’ve always found comfort in reading 2 Corinthians 11 & 12. Despite all that Paul suffered from so many, he found strength in Christ and kept going. The Lord assured Paul that, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness. (NLT)” If God impresses you to leave the situation, then leave with your head held high and immediately find another place to worship by asking God to show you. Don’t allow Satan to tempt you to “take a break.” If you stop going, even for a short time, Satan will make it easier to stay home. Allow God to show you a place where you can minister for Him. If God impresses you to stay, then spend much time in prayer and ask others to pray for you. God will make a way! I will put you on a prayer list- know that others care and will lift you in prayer!

  • Marvy

    Thanks for the great points. I left my church and ministry of almost 6 year years a week ago. The LORD had been pulling at my heart to leave about 6 months ago, and he made it very clear two weeks ago. It came down to being obedient. I wrestle with the timing of leave–New members of the ministry still in training and teens. I told the LORD this is not a good time to leave. LORD reply back-I walk in eternity. It’s always a good time for me. The ministry is not all about you. It will go one if I am LORD.
    So I am accepting that God is in control, and a ministry of quiet intercessory prayer is what he is calling me into now. I was doing Tech becasue there was a need, but that wasn’t my calling or gifting… Be careful that you do not take on a ministry based on “church program needs”, instead of God’s needs of you. So now we are in the wilderness of looking for a church, but I am leaving that in God’s hand too.
    You all be blessed.

    • Deana Callins

      I hope to encourage you by knowing; I too went through the wilderness (spiritually) too. I was away from the church physical building. And I couldn’t understand why at the time. It was so difficult for me. Very frustrating. Because I was so used to the routine of church and it was all I ever knew or trained to do. So it was very uncomfortable for me. Within, I went through some serious “afflictions”. But, now that I have been (through) the Fire. I have a better relationship with the Holy Spirit, better understanding, and more revelation about the purpose God has for me and his church. He is calling us to a Relationship With Him without distractions. So we can HEAR him and Receive him. Without all the noise and confusion. It took a while, but I am finally at rest and comfort with God having control over me. Even when I don’t understand everything. In Time it was revealed. Im Better. Much better for it in my relationship with him. Let the flesh die so you can GAIN/Win Christ. Like Peter, Keep your (Eyes) on Jesus so you can stay (ABOVE) the water. Spend as much time seeking Jesus Word, listen to spiritual songs that minister to your spirit (which is spiritual warefare against the devil), and pray. Your going to “come out” better than you were. I Know. You might “Go Through” the valley of the shadow of death, but Fear Not any evil. For God IS “With You”. Hold on to what you have. Keep your Trust In Jesus Ability & Love for you. STAND (in your heart) with the Lord and “Faint Not”. He will Not forsake you as He Promised. Hes Is &Was Faithful even unto his own death!

      • Deana Callins

        Without “Love”
        Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not Love/charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
        1 Corinthians 13:1-3
        And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and “Have Not Love/charity”, I am nothing.
        1 Corinthians 13:1-3

  • Deana Callins

    And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the “Death/Flesh&Self.
    Revelation 12:10-12

    • Deana Callins

      “I counsel (you)” to buy of me gold/spiritual riches & treasures (tried) in the fire, that (you) ‘may be rich'; and white raiment, that (you) may be clothed, and that the shame of (your) nakedness do not ‘Appear'; and anoint (your) (Eyes) with eyesalve, that (you) may “See”. Revelation 3:17-19
      Isaiah 55:1-2 Every one that thirst, come ye to the waters, and he that has no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.