If you are a Young Life leader who is not returning next year, here are a few thoughts on leaving well.
You'll Be Missed More Than You Realize
Do not just assume that kids won't even notice that you are gone. Whether you realize it our not, you are one of the only "adult friends" that these teenagers have and they most likely feel closer to you than you feel to them. Even though they sometimes act like they don't even know you when you show up in the cafeteria or to a game, they will notice when you are gone. And it will be a loss for them.
Give An Explanation
When leaving, we must be intentional to actually say goodbye. It is easier to just leave without the hoopla, but kids need to know the truth, and they need to hear it from you, not someone else. If you asked them to trust you and to be your friend, you at least owe them the time to tell them goodbye. In some cases, it may be complicated as to why you are leaving, but it is important for you to give the kids an honest, clear, and well thought through explanation. You don't owe them all the details, but you at least owe them a reason for why you are leaving them.
Leave With Grace
Maybe you are leaving under not so great circumstances. Maybe you had a fall out with a teammate or a staff person. Maybe you're not a fan of the way things are being run. Even if you are leaving with tension, don't tear down others or verbally attack the ministry. Revenge doesn't mean that you win, it means that everyone loses. Choose your words carefully. Be truthful, but speak with grace. When a kid calls and tells you that "Young Life sucks since you left," encourage them to step up and be a leader instead of a critic. Be positive and support the leadership that is in place. Your voice still carries weight and influences the direction of the ministry. Be a cheerleader from afar.
Don't Make Promises You Can't Keep
It hurts less initially if you say "I'm not going to be a leader, but we can still hang out all the time."
But it hurts way more down the road when you aren't at all their games like you were last season.
It hurts less initially when you say "I'm moving, but we'll still talk all the time, that's what facebook and cell phones are for."
But it hurts way more down the road when you don't make those phone calls they were expecting.
It hurts less initially when you say "I'll come back and visit all the time."
But it hurts way more down the road when they see pics on your facebook wall revealing that you were back in town, and didn't call.
Tell them that you are sad that your relationship will never again be the same. Acknowledge the loss and hurt that comes with goodbyes.
Not from many kids, but probably from the ones you are closest too. They have a right to be angry. You have chosen something else instead of them. But choices are part of life. Jesus chose only twelve disciples. He chose to spend more time with only three of them. Our choices affect others. Many kids have been wounded by one day coming home to find out their mom or dad have moved out. Many of them have experienced real abandonment and they will be angry at you, or even God. As I have moved I have had kids say to me, "You're leaving me just like everyone else in my life leaves me." We have got to trust that God is in control and if we are being obedient to Him, then His plan is for ultimate good, even when it results in anger and hurt.
Make The Hand-off
It is your responsibility to do whatever you can to set up the high school friends you are leaving with another YL leader or someone else who can invest in their life. While it's easier to just roll out, it's worth the extra effort to introduce the new leaders to kids and even create hang out events where the new leader can be set up well to begin to earn the right to be heard. Also, be strategic in introducing new leaders to school faculty and parents of kids that you know. A true sign of good leadership is the success of an organization after a leader leaves. Leave well.
Do you know a YL leader who is "retiring?" Feel free to share this with them by clicking the Email/Twitter/Facebook links below this post.
Do you have any additional thoughts or comments that you have learned when leaving? Please share in the comments below.