Endings are hard. Sometimes, we go out of our way to avoid them. At other times, we postpone them, like sliding our favorite worn-out jeans to the back of our closet because we don’t want to throw them away. Endings are often scary, awkward, and sad, even when we know that they are needed. How many of us remain in toxic job environments because we fear the uncertainty or uncomfortableness of leaving? Here’s a principle that we know, but don’t love: When we avoid timely endings, we often experience messy exits.
For years, I worked in ministry and encountered thousands of volunteers, church staff, and leaders nationwide. I noticed that people had difficulty admitting they were no longer passionate or interested in their serving role. Few people seemed to know how to say, “It’s been a pleasure serving with you, but it’s time for me to leave this role.”
While I understand that people don’t want to leave a ministry short-staffed, disappoint a manager, or suffer the ire of a toxic boss, we’re not doing anyone a favor by staying when our soul is screaming for us to go. Too many times over the years, I’ve witnessed what I call the “staff rapture.” This happens when a volunteer or staff member stayed too long out of duty, people-pleasing, pride, or stubbornness. Soon, they begin to resent showing up. Eventually, their pent up frustration explodes into angry words or accusations. The ugly finale happens when they storm out, never to be seen again. Then, the next weekend someone asks, “Hey, where’s Beth?” Someone else shrugs her shoulders. “We don’t know. She was here last week, and now she’s gone and not answering her phone.”
Perhaps you’ve seen this. Or, maybe it’s happened to you. Whether you stormed out or quietly faded away, the pain of a messy exit can sideline us from living out our purpose for months or years to come.
How do we gracefully exit a ministry, a job, or an organization sooner rather than later when we sense God or our heart telling us to move on?
The first step is giving ourselves permission to remember that we’re not assigned to any job or role forever. There’s an ebb and flow to our human experience that’s best summed up by the wisest man who ever lived:
For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
As believers, our eternal destiny with Christ will never change, but our earthly assignments will. This verse sets up the expectation that there will be starts and stops, so we need to prepare ourselves to handle both. This means that if you’ve been serving in a job or a volunteer role that is no longer serving you (or allowing you to serve others well), pray and ask God whether the season for your involvement has changed. Trust that God will answer you.
In early 2015, I sensed God calling me to let go of my staff role at the church where I’d worked for over thirteen years. I’d spent my early staff years in part-time children’s ministry. In later years, I served on the weekend teaching team and executive leadership team. Comfortable in my corner office, I was confronted with giving up what I’d worked so hard for. I was intimidated by the thought of starting over again. Surely, it would be easier to stay. One day, I prayed and asked, “God, can I stay?” Over the years, I’d witnessed God do great and mighty things that I was part of, and I didn’t want it to end.
God’s response to my question was this: “Do you believe that I have more for you?”
I didn’t know the answer. Actually, I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t sure if I believed that He had more for me. How could I give up what was comfortable and good when I didn’t know what was next? But, I chose to trust Him.
Over the next five months, I prepared and prayed while leaning into the wisdom of trusted friends and counselors. In time, I recognized that as much as I loved what I was a part of, God was calling me to leave, even though I didn’t have a clear picture of my future. I sat down with my colleagues, including our new lead pastor and shared my plans. In the months to come, there were many good-byes, celebrations, and tears. But thanks to God’s prompting, I gave myself the time to end well and experienced the blessing of peace with a grace-filled ending.
Endings are hard, but you don’t have to make them harder by refusing to move on. Is God leading you in a new direction in some area of your life? Give yourself the gift of embracing the end so you can embark on your new beginning without the memories of a messy ending.
Listen to today’s article on the player below or wherever you stream podcasts!
Leave a Comment