As a student pastor, I often felt that there was a lot of information available on how to start in a new church, but not much on how to leave where you are. It’s an awkward time that can be celebratory and rewarding if handled correctly, while the opposite can certainly be true if you aren’t intentional with your final moments.
Here are some things to remember to make sure you’re making the best of those moments for yourself, and for those you’ve been pastoring.
Embrace the final moments and share from your heart
This isn’t the time for canned sermons or someone else’s remarks shaped to be your own. God called you to that place and has sustained you through messages, meetings, and countless spiritual conversations. You’ve made an impact there for the Kingdom and your final words should be your own, well thought out, final words to this group of people that you love. Don’t farm this out.
Don’t speak negatively
It is often the case that when someone leaves a church, there is some level of discouragement or frustration present. Certainly there are exceptions to this—I’ve lived an exception personally—but in most cases, there will be an opportunity for you to speak this frustration or keep it to yourself. My advice is for you to keep it to yourself. Leave your current situation supporting leadership and loving people, and take the frustrations to the Lord where they can be healed before you walk into your next place of service. Ultimately, that’s what you want—for the frustrations and discouragements of the past to be washed away in a new assignment, right? When you speak negatively of your former situation on the way out, that same baggage will often follow you to the new place. It’s time to leave the baggage behind.
Lift up the next leader
One of the best things you can do as you leave a place is to use your credibility to give the next leader a head-start. You can do this whether or not you know the person who will be following you, and it is something you can continue to do even after you are gone. Relationships with former students, parents, and leaders can be tricky when a new leader comes because there is a chance they will ask your opinion or use phrases like, “they just aren’t like you.” This is an opportunity for you to lift up the new leader rather than tearing them down, or even listening to complaints or comparisons with indifference.
Work as hard on your last day as you did on your first
I recently sat down with Jeff Borton, the Next Generations Pastor at Long Hollow Baptist Church, on Student Ministry That Matters to have a conversation on this very topic. This is one of the statements he made during that interview and I think it’s such an important thing to remember. Leave on a high note with a strong work ethic and a heart for people that you’ve been pastoring rather than checking out early.
Leaving can be difficult because it puts your heart in two places: where you are and the excitement of where you are about to be. If you can stay in it until the end without letting your heart leave too soon, the final moments in a church with people that you’ve labored for and with can be some of the most memorable times in ministry.
This post was written by Ben Trueblood, Director of Lifeway Students. Ben is passionate about investing in student ministry leaders like you. You can find more encouragement from Ben on his YouTube Channel, Student Ministry That Matters.