How to Make a Graceful Church Exit

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.

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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 four books including, "People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership" (IVP 2014), and his most recent book, “Brain-Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry” (Abingdon, May 2015).