Vol 11 No. 25 Saying Goodbye Properly

An employee walks into their supervisor’s office on a Friday afternoon to indicate that they have accepted a new job offer in a similar organization. Without saying a word, the supervisor calls Human Resources and asks them to join the conversation. The departing employee is informed that their position is terminated immediately, is accompanied to their office, fills a cardboard box with their personal possessions, forbidden to log onto the computer, surrenders their access cards and codes, and is escorted from the building.

I have seen and heard of some variation on this theme from many friends and acquaintances. I have seen this occur in both secular and faith-based organizations. What happens when pastors or staff leave a church? What ought to happen when pastors or staff leave a church? I’m not at all sure that we’ve worked that one out well. Some, including my own, at Kits Christian Community Church in 2005, are kind and deeply appreciated leave-takings. I have Kari Boyle and Kevin Best, both friends and officers of the church, to thank for that.

Some churches experience their pastors leave for positions elsewhere; some terminate with cause; some without cause. Some simply watch the dwindling financial indicators of sustainability for staff until there are few alternatives except anxiety-driven and often poorly-executed separation.

There are legal rules, regulations and means to employ, engage and disengage staff. Assistance can be obtained from your regional office. Two very important factors, however, must be observed. The first is that any person set aside for tasks in the church, whether they be paid or unpaid, needs to have clearly laid out job descriptions and expectations. Those expectations must be measurable, the incentives for meeting them clearly laid out, and the consequences of not meeting them also just as clear. These expectations must be reviewed after the first three months of engagement, and at least on an annual basis thereafter, with the expectation of future employment or disengagement. These issues will be the topic of further writing. Today I want to touch on how we take leave of one another well for there are many encouraging ways to do this and many of us must become better at it than we are now.

Some of the biblical stories of leave-taking are that of Moses’ departure (Deut. 31-34), Joshua’s installation (Josh. 1) and his departure (Josh. 24), Elijah’s departure and Elisha’s accession to his prophetic role (2 Kings 2), the ascension of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:1-11), and Paul’s leave-taking of the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:17-38). Many of you already know these biblical examples. Now I want to give you three examples of leave-taking that are, in my experience, encouraging and helpful. I would go so far as to say they are models for healthy leave-taking. The first two are drawn from the excellent liturgical resource, Gathering for Worship: Patterns and Prayers for the Community of Disciples created for the Baptist Union of Great Britain (Canterbury Press Norwich, 2005). If you would like a copy of this resource, please contact us in the Vancouver office at 604.225.5916.

Recognizing and Giving Thanks for Faithful Service (P. 91)

There will be times when a local church will want to mark a special occasion, such as the completion of a term of service by a deacon, elder, youth leader or other person in the fellowship, or the anniversary of a minister’s induction to that pastorate.

The act of recognition and thanksgiving may be included at an appropriate place in Sunday worship or a church meeting.

A is a disciple of Jesus Christ,

In baptism she/he was buried and raised with Christ

and commissioned for service.

We rejoiced especially that

she/he was called by God

to serve this church in its life and witness

through the ministry of an elder / a deacon / a teacher etc.


We are disciples of Jesus Christ

and we celebrate God’s call

to all who minister amongst us.


The service being recognized is outlined and a prayer is offered, extempore or as follows.


God of grace,

we praise you for the call to follow Jesus Christ

as a company of his disciples.

We thank you for all the gifts of ministry

you have lavished upon us

and for the gift of one another.

Now we thank you for A

and for her/his faithful service.

Continue to guide and sustain her/him, we pray,

that she/he may glorify you

in a life of discipleship and grace.

These blessings we ask in the name of Jesus Christ,

our Lord and saviour. Amen.


Blessing Departing Members (P. 92-93)

This act of recognition, thanksgiving and farewell is an opportunity to celebrate the fellowship of the church and to pray for those who are leaving and will need to belong to another local church elsewhere. It may occur during the Lord’s Supper, at another suitable point in a Sunday service, or at a church meeting.

Those who are leaving are mentioned by name, along the reason for their departure and any other relevant personal information.

A and C, we rejoice in your having been a part of this fellowship

and we want to wish you farewell

and seek God’s blessing as you move to . . .

In baptism

you confessed your faith

were buried with Christ

and raised with him to newness of life.

You were incorporated into the body of Christ

and commissioned for service and witness

in the church and in the world.

We have together sought

to follow Christ

and to be his church in this place.

Now you are called elsewhere.

We shall miss your companionship,

but rejoice that God will bless others through you

as we have been blessed.


The leader prays extempore, or as follows. Alternatively, the congregation may say together

Faithful God,

keep, preserve and protect A and C

all their days.

By the power of your Holy Spirit,

may they be salt of the earth

and light for the world.

Lead them to a new fellowship

and to new ministries,

secure in the faith

that binds us forever in the body of Christ. Amen.


Go in the peace of Christ.


The congregation may say


The Lord bless you and keep you.

The Lord make his face to shine up on you

and be gracious to you.

The Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you

and give you peace.


Those departing may say


A third example: I’ve known a certain local pastor since our undergrad days. I have never let him forget that we both applied for a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship for seminary; he got one, I didn’t. I framed my rejection letter and hung it on my office wall as a motivation until, to my amusement, it fell off one day and shattered. Last Sunday his church recited the following liturgy as he transitions out of full-time ministry. I thought I would leave it much as it is without particulars, but do want to note that the elder that led off this section of the service was the same chair of the board that had called my friend to be a minister twenty years before. I’m sure there are some things I would change, but it’s a good start – particularly the asking and granting of forgiveness and understanding which is the challenge of separation post-ministry.

Sending Forth in God’s Name

A Rite of Ending

Elder: On date, church’s name called pastor’s name to serve as ministry role.

Departing Pastor: Members and friends of church’s name, I thank you for your love, kindness and support during these past length of ministry service. I am grateful for the struggles, the learning, and the opportunities we have shared. I ask you for your forgiveness for the mistakes I have made.

Congregation: We receive your thankfulness and offer our forgiveness. We ask you to forgive our mistakes. We are grateful for your guidance and your gifts.

All: As we part, may we know God’s grace and peace.

The congregation is invited to stand.

Elder: Will you, the members and friends of church’s name, release pastor’s name from the duties of ministry role in this place?

Congregation: We will, God being our helper.

Elder: Will you respect the new relationship that now begins and offer your encouragement and prayers for her/his life and ministry hereafter?

Congregation: We will, God being our helper.

Elder: Will you, pastor’s name, release church’s name from dependence upon you as ministry role?

Departing Pastor: I will, God being my helper.

Elder: Will you respect the new relationship that now begins and offer your encouragement and prayers for continued ministry here?

Departing Pastor: I will, God being my helper.

Elder: Let us pray. Holy God, your love for all is everlasting. Help us to trust in the future which rests in your care. The time we were together in your name provided laughter and tears, hopes and disappointments. Guide us as we hold on to these cherished memories and move forward in new directions. Keep us one in your love forever, through Jesus Christ.

All: Amen.