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Leaving a Ministry Well: 6 Principles

Just yesterday I officially finished up a job I’d loved for the past eight years. When Jenna and I realized that God was moving us into a new chapter, we made a conscious decision that we would leave well. The church had been so good to us, the least I could do was exit gracefully.

The following ideas are in no way exhaustive, but throughout the six weeks of my transition out, I learned six principles of leaving that are worth sharing. So without further narration, here you go.

Communicate expectations:

Depending on the size of the ministry you’re leaving, you’ll have a number of people that need to be “in the know” about your exit transition. Once the word is out and you’re ready to give your notice, work out the details of your departure. Communicate how you will spend your last  few days in the office. Will you take PTO or cash it out? Will you work right up until the end, or will you hand off projects and responsibilities gradually? Be open and honest. How these conversations go will have a huge impact on how you leave your job.

Transition plan:

As part of those conversations mentioned above, work out who could do what as and when you leave. You probably know current staff members or volunteers who could help share the load of responsibilities that you will leave behind. Help the team you’re leaving work out the plan for when your gone. Don’t leave anyone without a net.

Prepare to be replaced:

As you’re leaving, remember that only you really know how to do your job. Sure several people could actually do your job, but if you’ve been at your job for any length of time most likely you do certain tasks without even thinking about the process. Take a day to write out Daily Operating Procedures (DOP) for the different aspects of your job.

How do you rewrite curriculum?
What information do you include in your weekly volunteer and parent communications?
How do you staff holidays or summer volunteer schedules?

Work like you’re not leaving:

Don’t give up. Stay committed to the tasks at hand. Soon enough your mind will wander and you’ll want to throw in the towel, but remember why you’re doing this ministry in the first place. Your job isn’t about you or the church; it’s about God and what he’s doing through you. Don’t let HIM down.

Tie up loose ends:

If at all possible, finish the tasks that you started. Obviously some of your job is more long term, and you will have to leave the details to your successor. Even so, take those projects as far as you can and leave them in trusted hands with clear DOPs for how to continue the work. Leaving well means finishing the race set before you. Write those last few scripts, call that parent back, and write that incident report. And really, clean out your desk!

Get Out of the Way:

This last one was the hardest for me. I like knowing what’s happening. I enjoy being part of discussions and future planning. Yet at some point, I realized that I wasn’t being included in meetings. Plans were being made without my input. While I could get upset or angry about this, I realized that this was part of the leaving process. Everyone had to move forward as much as I needed to move away.

Your church will post for your job, and your co-workers will talk about your replacement. They will plan events and write curriculum without your ideas. Becoming upset will only make this worse, rather pray for the transition and the future planning. Ask God to give you a peace and allow the ministry to thrive in your absence.

These ideas are not rocket science, but then again I’m not a rocket scientist. These are a few common sense ideas that I needed to learn. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Have you ever left a ministry? What did you learn that you would add to this list? I’d love to hear your thoughts!