This is the season for clergy and church staff to move.
Quite a few pastors have contacted me about managing their goodbyes and hellos as they transition.
These pastors want to manage their leaving well as a final way to love their congregations. In addition, they want to start well within a new ministry context.
Another set of clergy and churches seeking consulting are doing so because of problems with clergy or church staff who have left, but did not or are not leaving well.
These clergy and congregations are experiencing difficulty and complications because former pastors and staff members continue to hold on in various ways.
Some remain in the same community or nearby, making them very accessible. Others remain nearby and accessible through social networking and technology.
Either way, it is difficult for current clergy and the congregation to move ahead in mission and ministry.
Recognizing the desire of most ministers to leave well and leave well-enough-alone, while also starting well, I offer the following suggestions:
1. Decide if you trust God in this experience.
Do you see God’s providence in your move? When you can trust God with the move, then everything flows better.
2. Really grieve your leaving.
Last fall, I left a church in which I served as the renewal or redevelopment pastor for four years. We struggled, worked and sweated together. We did the heavy lifting required of redevelopment ministry.
Leaving them was difficult, even though I was completely sure my ministry among them was complete. By grieving with them, we were more able to move ahead afterward.
3. Acknowledge your sadness as others express theirs.
Our tendency when disciples in the church express their sadness about our leaving is to try to make this OK for them.
We point out how great the next pastor will be, or how God is really in this move, or some other message that tries to talk them out of their sadness.
Instead, be real. Be sad with them if you are sad. The best way to move through sadness and grief is to acknowledge it head-on.
You are ministering to them by being authentic about sadness. This facilitates our movement through the valley of the shadow.
4. Let goodbye mean goodbye.
When you leave, you are no longer the pastor or a staff member. If you continue to hold on or stay involved in any way, you are occupying space in the system, which rightly belongs to their current pastor and staff members.
When you remain involved, even ever so slightly, your shadow darkens what is meant to be a new day in the life of this congregation. Love them enough to say goodbye, and then discipline yourself to be gone.
5. Resist the seduction of distress calls.
“Yes, we could call our current pastor, but we love you so much, and you meant so much to our family, wouldn’t you please come to the hospital?”
Translation: “We know you left, but we don’t want to make room in our hearts to share significant life experiences with this new pastor.”
By going, you undermine the potential of a new pastoral relationship with their current pastor.
6. Realize when you ask the current minister to return, there’s only one answer he or she can give.
If they say yes, their potential pastoral relationship with this family is delayed or diluted.
If they say no, they come across as petty, small and controlling. Either way, the current pastor pays a price.
As the former pastor, is divided loyalty what you want for your former congregation?
Instead, don’t even put the current pastor in this hard place. Just say no and then inform the current pastor of your conversation with these church members.
7. Realize it’s not about you.
It is so sweet to our ears when we hear people say they cannot live without our wonderful sermons, great pastoral care and excellent leadership skills. When you hear these things, know the seduction has begun.
This is when we learn how well our ego needs are being met. If we rely on the affirmation of a congregation to meet our ego needs, we will give into the seduction every time.
If we are more differentiated, have a systems understanding of congregations, and are convinced God is in the leaving experience, then we will resist this attractive call.
Remember, ministry is not about you; it’s about God’s kingdom. Get your personal love, affirmation and ego needs met elsewhere.
Leaving well comes down to love. How much do we love this congregation? Enough to let go and trust them into God’s care as expressed through the next pastors and staff members? It’s your call.
Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates.