How to Leave Well


One of the important but not very fun parts of my job as an Executive Pastor was having tough conversations with employees (i.e., “friends”), which sometimes ended with terminating their jobs. I always had a pit in my stomach while working through these difficult conversations and transitions.

I was not surprised those conversations were filled with emotion. I was not surprised when the person receiving the news cried, got upset, and said something in the moment he or she didn’t really mean.

However, what shocked me again and again was when, days or weeks later, I heard bitter words of entitlement come from a few of the individuals.

“I worked there for five years—I can’t believe they fired me.”

“I’m too old to find another job, yet the church just abandoned me.”

“I’ll never step foot in that place again after they stabbed me in the back like that.”

I know of former staffers still emotionally crippled years after their employments ended, overwhelmed with anger and bitterness over no longer being employed by the church.

It’s interesting to me because most of them attended the church for years before joining the staff team. They volunteered, served, and worshiped for a long time without being compensated. Most of them experienced a significant spiritual moment (or many moments) through the ministry of the church.

But somehow when money entered the equation, and then was removed, the sense of entitlement crept up and entangled people and clouded their perspectives. It was almost as if the church owed them jobs; as if the mission of the organization was not to be effective or good stewards of limited money, but rather to keep people employed.

I am not a Fox News fanboy, nor do I agree with much that Dick Morris says, but I thought his response after being fired by Fox was stellar.

In February 2013, Dick was interviewed on the Piers Morgan Show on CNN. Of course, being the chief competitor to Fox News, Piers was anxious to hear Dick diminish his former employer. He pushed and prodded, hoping to get a response.

He asked, “Why you? . . . Did they want to make you a poster child? . . . A lot of people at Fox News were wrong. Why single you out?”

Dick took the blame twice by saying, “I was wrong at the top of my lungs, and that’s why.”

That wasn’t good enough for Piers; he wanted some trash: “Do you resent that they pushed you out?”

He was trying to get past the facts and talk about the emotion. I loved Dick’s response: “Look, Fox News gave me the opportunity of a lifetime . . . fifteen years, three thousand interviews. At some point the great marriage has to come to an end.”

Still not satisfied, Piers then took another full minute to speak poorly about the Fox News Channel, citing falling market share and baiting Dick to say something bad about his employer. But he didn’t take the bait.

He diverted the question by replying, “Regardless of whether you want to blame Fox News or not, I believe the problems are . . .” and then began to outline issues with political parties, changing culture, and more.

I hope you never get fired—I hope I don’t either. But if it happens, it would be smart to respond the same way Dick did (see entire video below).

Here is a list of principles to consider when leaving a position:

  • It is not disingenuous or fake to keep your mouth shut. You don’t have to say everything you are thinking to every person who asks.

  • Focus on the good years, not the bad days. Just as Morgan did with Dick Morris, people who want you to say something spiteful will bait you. Instead, focus on everything good that came out of your tenure.

  • If you need to talk, and you probably will, save it for your spouse, a far-removed friend, or a counselor. If you worked for a church, don’t talk to anyone in the church or any former work associate about your issues.

  • Your future employer will pay attention to how you talk about your former employer. The things stated on Facebook, Twitter, and all other social media are permanent. Even if you delete them, they can be found.

Above all, we are followers of Jesus, and people are watching us. It’s important that we rise above our own feelings, remember our actions matter, and above all show the world that we are marked by love.