An Open Letter to the Departing Youth Pastor

[Note: It is important for the readers to know that this “open letter” is not to anyone specific. I do not know of someone preparing to leave or in the middle of this difficult process. I simply am speaking from 20 years of experience (and even my own success and/or failure in this area) and from the number of opportunities God has now given me to consult with churches who are in transition between youth pastors.] 

Departing Youth Pastor,

When you decide to leave, please do us a favor and leave well.

I totally understand that you’re leaving for any one (or combination) of a myriad of reasons. But whether you’re leaving for something bigger or better, or leaving because you’re bitter, please be aware of the wake of your departure and the damage it may cause.

Yes, I completely understand the temptation to justify your position as to why you are leaving or why you were asked to leave, but please do everyone a favor and protect the bride (the church)–even if this specific church or a few select people did some things or will do some things wrong. I get it, you want others to feel what you have felt, you want all to know how hard it was to make this decision (or to have had it made for you) and you desperately want to hear, “It just won’t be the same without you.” But I simply want to encourage you to do the hard thing and take the high road. It is the better way and you will not regret it.

Whether you’re leaving by choice or have been asked to leave, others in your care will ask “Why?” Of course, you or others have many reasons why this move is taking place. But just because there are many reasons doesn’t mean that everyone is entitled to know them. You (and others) can protect that information. Most of us are on a “need to know” basis and we don’t need to know.

Any departure is tough, you likely love the masses, and probably dislike a few. Those few may be under your skin. Don’t let that outnumbered bunch mute the amazing chorus of your many friends, and the celebration of many victories God granted in your ministry. You loved the ministry, the students, your teammates and the families. Continue to love these people well by leaving well; bless them with words of encouragement rather than looking to fuel your pride. Flee the youthful lust of self-satisfaction. It’s too easy to let Satan kill, steal and destroy the precious memories made and victories won.

Your flesh will literally want to hear things like:

“You left some big shoes to fill”

“What will I do without you?”

and the worst one, “I heard they are leaving the church because of this too.”

Oh how I cringe at that last one. But in not leaving well once, I can admit that I wanted to hear those words. I wanted for others to see it my way, even though I knew that was wrong. I wanted others to leave with me. How immature is that?

There is much more to say in this letter… perhaps I’ll write more later, but for now, please know that I understand that it is hard and you likely have been and will be sinned against at some point in this process, but I can only urge you to do what is best in the long run. Bless others on your way out with words that protect the bride, that bless the ongoing ministry and pray for the transition of the new ministry leader. You will not ever regret doing these things.

Remember, these are our eternal teammates and and our war is not to be against one another, but rather against the enemy who is looking to divide us. Look to be a good teammate!

Grace,
Brian

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18 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Departing Youth Pastor

    1. Hey David, that’s in the second part of this open letter… I just felt like I had so much more to say, but not enough space to say it! Love your thought!

  1. One of the worst things a youth leader ever told me (he thought it was a complement) was, “I could never do what you do up there [stage]!” I have since attempted to give away ministry and train more in anticipation of my eventual departure from the ministry. I’ve been pastoring in the same spot for 13 years and odds are I need to work myself out of a job.

    1. great thoughts Aaron, and as one who has seen you on the stage and behind the scenes, I see your desire to give away the ministry and see others discover his/her gifts!

  2. Speaking as a former church planter and preaching pastor I can’t agree more! When youth leaders leave well they leave with their reputation in tact. When they don’t, they do more damage to their own name and ministry potential than they do the church’s. Whenever a youth leader leaves well it brings glory to God. Well said Brian!

    1. Hey all! I highly recommend that if you’re in this spot (pre transition, in transition or even questioning your calling) that Matt would be a great person to talk to! I’ve gotten to know him the last year or so and believe the soul care you’d receive is well worth the effort of shooting him an email!

  3. Great word, Brian. In leaving a previous church I can attest that it is an intentional choice to leave well. It’s easier to do when we recognize that the ownership belongs to Jesus and not to MY programs and MY people. I have also observed that we can usually leave well if the leaving is initiated by our own selves. It’s when others help make that decision for us that we can tend to leave poorly. May I suggest, that if someone is struggling to leave well, a great book (easy and short too) that will illuminate your heart: A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards (http://www.amazon.com/Tale-three-Kings-Study-Brokenness/dp/0842369082/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1352848009&sr=8-1&keywords=tale+of+three+kings).

  4. Nice work Brian. Don’t burn bridges for the sake of the kingdom, the sake of your sheep, the sake of the church, and your own future relationships. Most people (99.99%) don’t need to know all the reasons, so suck up your pride and keep quiet. As my pastor told me in a transition, if you truly believe that God is sovereign then he IS moving you on. Rest in that. Thanks for writing a much needed letter!

    1. appreciate it Kirk. Having been in the trenches with you, I can give praise to God for the way you handled your transition so well! God, your family and your church was honored!

  5. Brian – great letter! And not only relevant for youth pastors, but anyone transitioning out of a leadership role in the church! Leaving well is an opportunity for one last great impression and encouragement for the ministry you are leaving. Thanks for the words of wisdom!

  6. Had a pastor (not a youth pastor) leave like you wrote about above. And I believe that the example he set spoke volumes. “If possible, so far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all men.” Romans 12:18 And absolutely it is a choice, “Seek peace, and pursue it.” Proverbs 34:14

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