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Exit Strategy: How a Pastor Should Resign from a Church

How should a pastor resign from a church? Much depends on your personality and relationship with the church, yet some basic principles apply to most situations. From pastor Calvin Wittman.

Resigning from a church is never an easy task. Whether your ministry experience was good or bad, when it comes time to leave there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. As a married couple needs little advice, pastors who leave loving churches don't need much counsel. Love covers a multitude of sins. Those more in need of counsel are those whose departure is more akin to a divorce.

How should you resign? Much depends on your personality and relationship with your church, yet some basic principles apply to most situations.

Look up

Remember the focus should be on Jesus.

Some pastors view their resignation as an opportunity to say everything they never before felt the freedom to say. They use the occasion to air their dirty laundry, to jab back at folks who were a thorn in their side, or to "set the record straight." This should not be. The focus of your resignation, like the focus of your life and ministry, should always be on Christ.

If Jesus, from the cross, could pray, "Father forgive them," should you do less as you leave a difficult church? If they have not heeded your words while you were their pastor, they will certainly not listen to you on your way out. Don't confirm the gossip of those who accused you of being less than a pastor should be. Take the high road.

This also means removing as much of the emotion as possible from your resignation. Standing before the congregation on Sunday morning and shocking them with your prepared statement may not be the best approach.

Consider writing a letter and sending it to the entire church body. Send it on a Wednesday afternoon. You and your secretary can do this with a great degree of discretion, and then everyone in the church will know about it before Sunday. This approach keeps the emphasis of the worship service on Jesus and not on the shocking announcement you make before the service is over. It also keeps the rumor mill from running amuck.

Look around

Remember the people you came to serve.

While some churches are more difficult to leave than others, there will always be people who have looked to you as their spiritual leader. They will continue to do so after you have left. You are their picture of what Jesus should be like, so the way you handle your resignation will deeply affect their lives. Think about how your words will affect these lambs in the flock. Season your words with salt so as to heal and not to wound. Be a peacemaker. There are always positive things to say, even about the most difficult of circumstances.

  • What has God taught you during your stay here?
  • How have you grown?
  • What are you grateful for?
  • Have you developed some good friends?
  • Has God sustained you? If so, what words of praise can you offer Him?

People want to see that the message of love and forgiveness you have preached is something that can be practiced. If you can't do it, what hope do they have? There is no better opportunity to prove this than when you resign.

Furthermore, what about the people with whom you served? Were there fellow staff members who encouraged you and helped you make it through the valleys? How you leave will affect them, too.

Look ahead

Remember that God is calling you to something, not from something.

Your excitement about your new calling should be evident as you move. The way you leave will invariably affect the way you arrive. As you resign, remember that in this digital age you never know if your words turn up on the internet. Don't say something as you leave one place which would, if broadcast, hurt you at the next. Remember that God has allowed you these experiences for a reason. He constantly prepares you for the next step. Get past the past and focus on the new thing God is doing.

You can resign with grace. It's a choice you make. It's a legacy you will leave.

Dr. Calvin Wittman is pastor of Applewood Baptist Church, Wheat Ridge, Colorado. He serves as a trustee at Criswell College, and regularly contributes to Open Windows, a monthly LifeWay devotional publication.
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