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How to Leave Youth Ministry with Honesty and Grace

How do you leave a youth ministry role with honesty and grace?

The leading voices in youth ministry have said for a long time that when it is time to go . . . leave well. To be honest, I think I’ve even said that phrase myself in the not-so-distant past. But the more I process it . . . I’m not sure its possible.

Leaving well implies that it is possible to finish perfectly and that every relationship will be restored and at peace when you go. That everyone will sing songs in your honor when you leave, laying down palm branches in your driveway as your Hyundai backs out for the last time. In my experience and seeing a ton of other youth workers walk through this: transition is tough.

The good news: I do think there are a few ways to leave without adding to the pain of transition. Want to leave with honesty and grace? Here’s how . . .

Leave at the right time
It isn’t always possible, but leaving at a natural break is best. The end of summer is ideal but not always possible. But even more than leaving at the right time in the calendar, pray through leaving at the right time in the church culture as well. Stay too long after you know you’re done and it’ll be painfully obvious, leave too soon and blindside people.

Make the transition short
I understand the need for a transition time to help prepare students or ensure a peaceful exchange of leadership – but there’s nothing worse than a “lame duck” who is out but still in. Pray through the timing of your announcement and the timing of your last day – typically I wouldn’t put these more than a month or two apart at the most.

Protect the pastor
Don’t cause division in the church – you will only hurt God’s body and leave students and volunteers hurt in the crossfire of departure. Know that God will use that church for His glory, even if you are no longer a part of the leadership. You can’t leave perfectly, but you can minimize damage by controlling your tongue (and ears for that matter).

Leave better not bitter
Take a long hard look at yourself. Don’t jump right into your next position. Take some time to get alone and debrief with your spouse or mentor and get alone with God. Leaving is tough on a church; know that it will leave some scars on you, too. Leaving better means choosing not to divide the church, to walk away . . . and to work on what God reveals to you in the process.

It is impossible to leave without hurting someone. Even if you leave in ideal conditions people will be hurt to lose you as part of the church. Leaving is messy. Leaving isn’t easy. I’m not sure you can leave well . . . but you can leave better.

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Josh Griffin is high school pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. He’s the co-counder of DownloadYouthMinistry.com and host of the Youth Ministry Garage Podcast. He's authored more than 20 youth ministry resources and is the author of "99 Thoughts for Small Group Leaders" with Doug Fields. Josh is a father of 4 who speaks a little, podcasts a little, Twitters a bit, and blogs a lot. You can find him at DownloadYouthMinistry.com!