How Do You Tell Students You Are Leaving?

Sunset TideI noticed this was a search topic that led to my blog the other day, so I decided to go ahead and write up a post with my thoughts on this very touchy and sensitive subject.

I am sure that I do not need to tell you that leaving students is never an easy task. Even when you have a group that never seems to be involved, or even to care about anything beyond their own (sometimes but not always) shallow, dramatic desires. So when you leave them, how do you lessen the blow?

  • Don’t try to lessen the pain. You need to realize and acknowledge that no matter how uninvolved your teens might seem, there is nothing you can do to lessen the blow of leaving. So do not try to sugar-coat things and sell them a lesser degree of honesty or truthfulness. Now, this does not mean that you need to share every single reason why you are leaving. If there are personal problems between you and other church members that helped lead to your decision to leave, students (and other church members) typically do not need to hear about it. Those kinds of details will quickly become church gossip and will only damage the ministries still active within that church, and break the body. So be honest, but do not be overly honest.
  • Give teens time. It is usually best to give teens some time to process the fact that you are leaving. Somewhere between 3 and 6 weeks is usually best. Any less and teens will not feel that they have adequate time to say goodbye, any more and the idea will become lost until the day it happens and then teens will feel cheated (it means nothing that you told them, they forgot). I have been in ministries where I told students a week before I left, the day I stepped down, and 2 months before I moved on, and each one met with its own difficulties. So make sure your teens get time to adequately process.
  • Inform them in an orderly manner. Tell students as a whole, but make sure to inform those that you are closest to in advance. This will only serve to help the transition process that you trusted them enough to tell them first. Just don’t ask them to hold onto it for a long time. A day or two at most. Never let your announcement come through an e-mail, bulletin, newsletter, or phone call. Only male this announcement in person. After the announcement has been made, then you can post relevant info online, in bulletins, etc.
  • No campaign promises. Whatever you do, do not make promises of regular phone calls, e-mails, visits, etc. This will shortchange your new group (if you are moving on to another ministry), and will hurt the group you are leaving when you do not get back to them regularly. Instead let them know that if they call you will get back to them, but it might not be right away. If you are comfortable with it, give them the URL of a blog you update or invite them to be friends on you MySpace, Facebook or other social networking site. But remember, do not make promises you cannot keep.
  • Be real. As far as the content of your message itself, be honest. If God is calling you on, let students know that. Just be prepared to field questions of how you know this is God’s will for you. If it is a family issue, let your students know that you are stepping down because of family issues. Typically you will be able to discern and the answer will come back that God is indeed calling you to step down, and that will be what you are called to share. Keep your explanation brief, do not linger on problems, and make every effort to focus on the positives of your leaving (new things, following God, adventure, etc.).

Those are my thoughts. Additionally, here is one more good idea: in the weeks leading up to your departure, plan lessons or talks around the concept of the Body of Christ, knowing God’s Will and discerning His call, and the bonds of Christian brotherhood/sisterhood.

Anything to add? Leave a comment…