Making the Plan to Leave

I wrote recently about why I thought it was time for evangelical ministers to make a plan to leave the Church of England. Since then, we’ve had a number of bishops write and tweet in support of the church accepting same-sex marriage and a noticeably weak response from evangelicals.

So the question of a plan for leaving becomes all the more urgent and I thought it might be useful to make some observations about how to make the plan. I think these are mostly fairly obvious, but perhaps it helps for someone to write them down.

On the whole I’m not a fan of advice blogs and, this is, as you might expect, a mixture of what I’ve observed, learned and the mistakes I’ve made. I hope it’s helpful, but obviously I’m not exactly an expert, so ignore or modify as you see fit!

I’m going to write about two broad areas. First, some general thoughts about how to approach making the plan. Second, some specific areas that will probably need to be included in the plan.

I’ll start with some general things about approach:
  1. Keep going in your faith. Perhaps this is about as obvious as it gets, but I think it’s worth headlining. Big changes, especially in a context of feeling pushed out of a vocation, can be unsettling and tempt us to various sins like bitterness. Don’t be pulled away from following Jesus (1 Corinthians 10:12).
  2. Keep close to family and friends. You’re planning big changes, so make sure that you both plan with the people it will most affect and take wise counsel from trustworthy people who both know you well and who understand the situation (Proverbs 15:22).
  3. Don’t despair. Lots of people have managed to leave. It can be difficult, costly and there will certainly be barriers to overcome, but it is still better to be faithful.
  4. Be specific. Vague plans don’t really help much, because you don’t know what to do next. In the areas I list below it will certainly help to have goals (e.g. buy a house, get a job), but goals aren’t plans! Specify what you need to do - at least what the next step is. Then plan when and how you will do it!
In terms of the areas that will need to be covered by the plan, I know that everyone has a different situation. For example, is you are a self-supporting minister, or already live in your own house, then thinking about what you will do and where you will live might be rather less important. However, I suspect the most common case I’m thinking about is the incumbent of a parish church (or churches), living in the vicarage and been paid for a full time.

Let me suggest thinking through the following areas.
  1. Church. You are an under-shepherd responsible for your flock (1 Peter 5:1-4). I think you are certainly right to be thinking about leaving. Being an unfaithful under-shepherd and especially making friends with wolves is not a way to lead a church (Acts 20:28-29; Jude 4). But how you leave and how you can best provide for the people of God needs to be thought through. I would suggest two areas to consider. First, have you clearly and repeatedly explained the situation in the CoE to your people? To protect them, for the future they need to understand and that will take time and patience. You may have spent a lot of time shielding them from the realities of the diocese, bishop or denomination, so you could get on with gospel work, but now is the time to explain carefully until people understand (even if they don’t agree with you). Second, what do you hope the faithful will do and have you explained their options? If you’re leaving then you probably think they should, especially given what is likely to follow on from you leaving. It may be that you are planning a local church plant, but that won’t always be possible. Perhaps the best option is a list of churches you would move to.
  2. Home. One of the issues with church ministry is that your home is usually wrapped up with your job. So planning to leave will necessarily mean working out where you’re going to live and how. This might be affected by your wife’s job, your children’s schools, as well as what you think you might be going to do next. Don't assume you will be able to move somewhere - work out how.
  3. Work/Ministry. If you’ve spent any time at all in ministry you know that this is tricky. I was a teaching fellow in AI at a university before I went into ministry, but that was nearly 20 years ago. I was never going back to that! So what could I actually do if it wasn’t ministry? Did I need a break from ministry? Would the best thing be to start a new career? If I wanted to continue in ministry, what actual options are there? What do my family need right now?
  4. Money. Unless you have a large source of independent income, I imagine your finances will take some thought (especially given the previous two areas of planning). On the one hand love of course love of money shouldn't stop us being faithful (Matthew 6:24), on the other we should aim to work and provide for our families (1 Thessalonians 4:11; 1 Timothy 5:8).
  5. Family. Most ministers know that ministry has a big impact on their family. Battle-scarred ministry will be particularly difficult. Walking away from the CoE may be very significant for your family in different ways. Thinking about what you want for your wife and children if you have them and bringing their concerns to the planning will be really important. Remember if you’re married and have children, you are required to be a godly husband (Ephesians 5:25-33) and a father (Ephesians 6:4) by Scripture in a way that you are not required to be in ministry for example.
I hope that’s a helpful list to get you thinking. Let me finish by reminding you that it is possible to make and execute a plan to leave (plenty have done it before you), but the better you plan, the more likely you will make a healthy and godly exit.


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