I am once again saying goodbye to a youth ministry. Because of our move from Germany to the States, I have to say goodbye to the teens I ministered to as a volunteer. This is the fifth time I’m leaving a youth ministry and I’ve learned some lessons along the way.
No matter how long you’ve been someplace, no matter if you were a volunteer or on staff, no matter if you’re leaving by your own free will or were asked to leave: there’s a right way and a wrong way to leave your youth ministry. My advice can be summed up like this: do not burn your bridges.
First of all, that’s not how God wants it. Secondly, the Christian world is a small world and the world of youth ministry even smaller. Stupid things like leaving in anger, or leaving behind a big mess will get around. They’ll hurt your reputation and may make it hard for you to get another job, or to gain trust in another church.
Here’s what leaving youth ministry the right way looks like:
1. Leave in peace
I mean this literally. Do not leave in anger or with fights as far as you can help it. Talk things out, or agree to disagree in love. Speak words of love and forgiveness before you go. But don’t leave with a big fight, you’ll regret it. It will cause bitterness in your heart and may become a stumbling block in your relationship with God.
Also, leaving is not the time to vent all your frustrations from the last years. I’ve heard of youth pastors who in their last days told the senior pastor what they thought of him, gave their honest opinion of the way the church functioned, etc. Leaving is not the right time for this, you’ll end up hurting people, making them angry and as a result, people will be glad to see you go. That’s not what you want.
2. Stay responsible till the end
You were responsible for certain tasks, make sure you transfer this responsibility to someone else when you leave. Don’t just drop everything you were doing and leave a mess behind. If there’s no one to take over, write down important info like names and addresses, passwords and how to’s. Do everything you can to make sure your knowledge is stored somewhere so people can easily pick up where you left off.
3. Support your successor
I cannot stress this enough: support your successor. You may have your doubts, you may not like him or her, but unless you have cold hard facts that he or she is unsuitable, don’t say anything. In fact, publicly support your successor, especially towards the parents and the teens.
4. Let go
This is the hardest part for some: letting go. Especially if there’s a successor in place, it’s important to let go and not stay involved in the youth ministry. There can be only one captain on a ship and if you’re leaving that’s not you. Gracefully surrender the leadership to someone else and step aside.
What would you add to these, what else is important when you want to leave your youth ministry the right way?