Leaders don’t always get to stay where they want; sometimes they need to go where they’re called. This means that we may find ourselves leaving churches we love in order to see the plans of God unfold.
We left our local church two years ago—a church we served, led, loved, and still love. A place where we knew we were supposed to be until we no longer were. I led the women's ministry and my husband was a pastor there. Leaving was heart wrenching, and when we sat down to tell the other elders about our decision, I ugly cried.
We will never look back on that time and say, "We can’t wait to do that again!" If you love a church and have been part of building it up, leaving is never a simple decision. There was, however, beauty hidden in the mourning because it reminded me of how deeply we had loved and been loved.
I refuse to justify the nonchalance with which people join and leave churches. I’m concerned they will never experience what being a part of the church truly looks like. They will not taste the sweetness of authentic community or know the grace of lives knit together. This is why we approached the decision to leave with prayer and seriousness.
It was shocking when I felt a shift surrounding where we were plugged into the church. I always try to hold my roles loosely—along with where we live, where our kids go to school, and other decisions we make—but I couldn't understand why God would ask this. I began to ask him to make a way—a way to stay or a way to go. A path was soon laid against my will, but it was clearly his.
By all means, we must go where God sends us despite our feelings (I’m looking at you, Jonah), but this doesn’t mean that we won’t experience emotions as we do. It’s wise to be prepared so that we can make plans to leave in a healthy way. As the way began to unfold, I begged God to show me how we could end our time with this group of people well. Here are five things that helped me prepare emotionally for leaving when God told us it was time to go:
1. Grieve the loss.
Brace yourself, this is going to hurt. Rhythms of life are built around your weekly routine, holiday traditions, and interactions with people—and these are all about to change. I cannot begin to explain how you will miss the people whose eyes you’ve looked into week after week! There will definitely be loss, and it’s important to make space for working through your grief.
There will be times the emotional toll does not feel worth it, so take the time and do the work that helps you know that this move is from God—ask the hard questions to ensure that God is orchestrating this change, not you. This will help you feel confident that you are acting out of obedience rather than simply chasing ambition or leaving because you’re hurt. That reassurance will help you as the different stages of grief hit.