Whether you’re considering how to transition out of ministry because it’s time to do something new, leaving ministry can be an exciting or nerve-wracking experience. There are many ways leaving ministry for secular work can affect your life and those around you.
When I was 20 years old, I became a pastor and decided to transition out of ministry when I was 38. I was a pastor for 18 years in full-time ministry. During the last five years of pastoring, I would bounce around the idea of exploring new opportunities.
Eventually, I left the ministry for secular work to pursue a career with a fast-growing company as a content marketer. Now, I focus my efforts on helping leaders by creating content and sharing resources here and for other sites.
No doubt you have many transferrable skills and abilities to utilize in various fields of work; however, there are several things to think about if you are considering making a change.
Leaving ministry for secular work is a big deal, especially if pastoring and church life are all you’ve ever known. Please keep reading to discover what I learned along the way and gain some helpful insight to help you decide how to transition out of ministry.
How To Transition Out Of Ministry With Wisdom, On Good Terms, And At The Right Time
Deciding to leave the ministry, especially when you’ve been serving for a while, can be difficult. You will likely experience excitement, nervousness, grief, hope, and many others.
You will probably wonder if you’re abandoning your flock or no longer fulfilling God’s calling on your life. These are valid concerns and questions worthy of taking time to process, gather wisdom, and seek guidance.
Although, if you are in a situation that is no longer healthy for you, your family, or the church, more than likely, it’s time to move forward. When you’re considering leaving the ministry for secular work, there are several factors that you can evaluate to help you make a good decision.
9 Things To Consider Before Transitioning Out Of Ministry
I thought about pursuing other opportunities for close to five years before finally leaving the ministry. I am not suggesting that your decision needs to take that time; however, taking a reasonable amount of time before making a change is wise.
Whether you exit should be a matter of careful prayer, discernment, and (I hope) influenced by the counsel of wise people who know you well and love you enough to tell you the truth. – careynieuwhof.com
In addition to many prayers, other important factors can help you decide how to transition out of ministry. Beyond having a lousy week, season, or even year in ministry, there are some things to consider before making any final decisions.
1. Clarify Why You Want To Quit The Ministry.
It is crucial to understand why you want to transition out of ministry. Processing and articulating why you want to move on is helpful to ensure that you are not quitting prematurely.
When making a career change, it’s always better to run toward an opportunity than from a problem.
- Are you burning out and need a break?
- Do you have an idea that you cannot shake?
- Are you experiencing hurt in the church?
- Is the church culture unhealthy?
- Do you have a side-hustle that has grown?
- Are new opportunities expanding and overtaking your focus?
Or is there something else going on? Pinpointing and understanding the reasons driving your desire to quit is essential in this process. Evaluating why you want to leave ministry for secular work can help you make a confident decision about staying or quitting.
Maybe taking a break is the best solution if you are fatigued or overwhelmed before leaving vocational ministry. But, if you lack zeal and passion for your work and it has become unfulfilling, it’s worth exploring new possibilities.
It’s essential to do soul-searching before you make a big move or have conversations that you later regret. It may make the difference between a healthy and successful exit or one you wish you could take back.
2. Identify What Motivates You At Work.
Have you ever taken the time to consider that there is a disconnect between your motivations and your work? I believe any personality can operate in any role with enough willingness to serve, learn, adapt, and grow. However, I also think it’s possible to do work out of obligation or fear rather than inspiration and hope.
What if the ministry is not draining to you? What if you want to quit because of the work you are doing in the ministry?
Is there a gap between your natural giftings and your role or responsibilities? Identifying what motivates you at work can help you create alignment or make a change, if necessary.
The Enneagram Career Guide can help you identify what motivates you and create a path toward new ministry or work opportunities. Taking the time to gain more self-awareness by learning how God specifically knit you together can help you understand ways your unique personality can intersect with fulfilling work.
3. Do Not Underestimate Job Flexibility.
If you’ve been serving in ministry for a long time, more than likely, you’ve adapted to being your own boss. Pastors and ministry leaders often experience autonomy and have the freedom to adjust their schedules for ultimate work-life balance.
Will you be able to find a job with the same level of flexibility, or will you have to start from scratch and work your way up again? Leaving ministry for secular work may be your next step, but do not underestimate the value of having autonomy and flexibility in your schedule.
Working with set hours, designated lunch breaks, or rigid scheduling may not be your cup of tea. If you begin a job search or enter an interview process, be sure to gain clarity around this aspect to avoid misunderstanding and future frustration.
4. Can You Articulate Your Unique Skillset?
Before leaving ministry for secular work, it’s crucial to consider how to use your passion and gifting in a new field.
- What are you good at?
- What do you love to do?
- Which talents or abilities make you feel alive?
Articulating your skillset may seem like an easy task and something to overlook – but it’s not. Try it right now. Say out loud to yourself or a friend, in one minute or less, the unique problems that your skillset solves and why you are a valuable addition to any team.
I trust the skills you’ve acquired from working in ministry are vast; the key is identifying which ones are your strongest and how you can transfer them to new opportunities.
5. What Do You Want To Do Instead Of Vocational Ministry?
What work do you want to do if it’s not vocational ministry? Do you already have a side-hustle or career building on the side? Figuring out how to transition out of ministry will depend on having a vision for what’s next.
Before leaving your job, try to find ways to experience what your next position might feel like. Does it feel better than what you are doing now? Is it worth committing to this change? – hbr.org
Sometimes it is easy to romanticize what a new career will be like, but it may be disappointing if you do not have an idea or context for it. Talk to others in a field that interests you or follow a podcast that discusses an appealing career or subject – the point is to begin identifying what type of work is most attractive.
6. What Mission Will Your Work Support?
You do not want to do something you are not passionate about after leaving ministry for secular work. It’s important to realize that a belief in a valuable mission has driven your career efforts up to this point.
Will you connect to the mission and values of a new organization as profoundly as you do with vocational ministry? Your work can support a greater mission for your life, but don’t discredit that you will spend a large amount of your time investing in a new mission.
Of course, you can find great fulfillment in other areas of life, outside of work. However, work must also be meaningful for it to be fulfilling. If you do not align with the mission or values of a new organization, it will be difficult for you to adjust.
7. How Will A Career Change Impact Your Finances?
Another essential factor is the financial implication of your decision.
- Can you afford to make a change?
- If necessary, can you live on savings for an extended period?
- Do you need to find another job quickly to support yourself and your family?
Take time to research what the market looks like for your skillset. If you decide to leave your ministry position, you’ll have a better idea of potential salary figures.
If possible, ensure you have adequate savings in case of an emergency. Making a career change is always a big deal, especially if you have a family to support.
8. When Do You Want to Transition Out of Ministry?
It’s also crucial to have a timeline in place. Do you have a goal regarding when you’d like to leave your current position (e.g., within the next five months or five years)?
Determining an end date will help guide your timing for leaving the church or organization and assist with making connections for the next chapter of your career.
9. Are You Having Conversations With Trusted Advisors?
The decision to leave ministry for secular work is not taken lightly. It’s essential to have a clear head and ample support before jumping. And, it is best to make impactful decisions with the council of mentors and trusted friends.
Do not make this decision in isolation. If there are people you can discuss leaving ministry for secular work with, initiate a conversation with them.
If you are married, this discussion should be ongoing between you and your spouse. If you are trying to figure out how to transition out of ministry, it should be a process you walk out together – there should be no surprises.
Be open to honest feedback and inquire wisdom from friends and mentors who know you well. They know the path you have taken and can help provide insight into how it may impact your life or ministry.
If you are the senior pastor and are seriously teetering on leaving the ministry, if you can have safe conversations with the Elder Team, you should do so. They can help support you, create a path toward new opportunities, and prepare for a successful church leadership transition.
Above all, talk to God about your decision and seek wise counsel from those who know you best. As with any significant life decision, it’s essential to take time for reflection and prayer before moving forward.
How To Transition Out of Ministry On Good Terms
Faithfulness to what God has entrusted you with is a sign of maturity. If you’re considering leaving vocational ministry, remember that it takes faithfulness and courage to stay in place when things are hard.
Don’t walk away too soon or for the wrong reasons. If God has called you, He’ll continue to empower you to stay the course until you feel a release to move on to something else.
Leaving ministry for secular work isn’t an easy decision. The truth is you have to be wise. So, don’t make a rash, unwise decision based purely on emotion or feelings. Instead, take adequate time to consider your desires and the other factors mentioned above in this post.
If you feel like it might be time to transition out of ministry and have evaluated your situation prayerfully, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, have peace, and believe that God is guiding you in this decision.
Deciding to leave the ministry is only the first step in the process. To the best of your ability, leaving a church or ministry well is essential. Below are four aspects of leaving a ministry well that will speak volumes about your character, keep relationships intact, and prevent misunderstandings.
4 Ways To Leave A Ministry Well
1. Keep A Vision For The Future
Change is never easy, especially regarding something as significant as transitioning from a ministry role. It’s crucial to have a clear vision for the future.
You do not need to have everything figured out or understand it entirely, but you need a hope-filled vision for the future filled with expectancy.
2. Plan To Overcommunicate
More than likely, people will have initial questions. Communicating with the appropriate leadership on the front end will help keep all lines of communication cohesive and unified.
Due diligence to process your motives and reasons for leaving and have honest, open conversations to avoid misunderstandings. Do your best if there is conflict to seek peace and reconciliation.
Don’t allow miscommunications to overshadow your time in vocational ministry. Do everything you can to leave transparently and communicatively. For more help navigating leadership change, check out the post: 5 Critical Rules For Leading A Successful Church Transition.
3. Always Honor
Choose to honor – everyone. Even if you believe you have been wronged – take the high road.
But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. – Luke 6:27-28
Keep in mind; that some people are innocent sheep, simply looking for a great church to be a part of; it may be so that the church you’re leaving is precisely that for those people. Work hard to protect their innocence and foster their ongoing participation in a healthy church.
Avoid burning bridges with the people you’ve worked with closely within the church. Thank them for the opportunities they’ve given you, and express your gratitude for their support during this process. This transition is a time when maintaining relationships is crucial.
4. Take Time to Grieve & Reflect
Change, even those affecting our careers, will cause many emotions. You may experience some level of grief. Realize these things are normal and designate time to process leaving the ministry.
Even though you have a hopeful future with tremendous opportunity, you are still losing a piece that was very meaningful to your life. Anytime we experience loss, grief is a normal emotion – expect it, experience it, and process it.
How To Transition Out Of Ministry Summary
Don’t walk away too soon or for the wrong reasons from vocational ministry. If God has called you, He’ll continue holding on to you even if you don’t feel like you’re doing anything right.
No one knows how to transition out of ministry perfectly. Like others, you’ll have to rely on God’s guidance as you go through this season. It’s also crucial to take the time to reflect on your decision, seek counsel from friends, and learn from the experiences of others who have gone before you.