Why the Way You Leave a Church is More Important than How You Came

As a layperson or a church staff member, it’s likely you’ve left a church at some point – or will leave a church in the future. When that happens, I hope you’ll remember the points of this post.

  1. People will remember how you leave. They’ll forget even the most miraculous works of God to bring you to the church if you leave in a negative way. Even a few weeks of negative can erase years of positive.
  2. Those who remain may be wounded if you leave poorly. Especially if they’ve loved and respected you, they may not understand why you’ve suddenly changed. Long-term friendships can be broken.
  3. Your family can be scarred by a bad ending. You might try to shield them from the pain, but few of us do that well when we’re wounded.
  4. Poor closures usually color future ministry opportunities. Once you’ve been hurt and carry wounds, you’ll always wonder if more wounds lie in the future.
  5. Division left by bad departures can destroy a congregation’s unity. This sometimes happens when departing members challenge others to take sides on the issues.
  6. Good departures make ministry a celebration. Rejoicing over victories is always better than battling over remaining disagreements.
  7. Healthy closure paves the way for the next leaders. One of the best ways to help the church’s next leader is to leave in joyful response to God’s calling – not in anger.
  8. Leaving well fosters long-term friendships. Moving to a different church doesn’t have to harm relationships if the departure is handled well.
  9. Good leavings promote Christian unity. Regardless of where we serve, we pray for and love other congregations when we’ve left well. Good memories promote harmony between churches.
  10. People will remember how you leave. So, I repeat #1 above, but with a different flavor. Leave in a positive way, and churches often forgive years of negative. 

What would you add to this list? 


  • John W Carlton says:

    My first church that I served full time was from 1971 to 73. It was the hardest church for me, but yet I learned more there than in any other place including college and seminary classes. After 7 months or so there was a group that wanted to fire me. They wanted me to concentrate more on the youth than I was although my training was in the music field. It got so bad that I almost lost my family, and almost developed and ulcer. However, there was another group in that church that wanted to use me as a leverage point to get rid of the pastor. As I was leaving they tried to get me to side with them, but because of wise counsel from my father-in-law pastor and also knowing that a hatchet job on the pastor would only come back and bite me, I did not succumb to this group. I thank God that I did not try to sabotage the work of this pastor. We remained on speaking terms until his death many years later.

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