Everyone loves a happy ending.
If you follow this blog, you know I’m in a season of transition again. When I got to my previous church someone on the search team asked me to reflect on how best to finish well. I didn’t know if I was the right one to do it, but I have had some experience ending. I’m not sure how well I’ve always done, but I have been intentional.
I knew in church revitalization that the way I ended my time there was as important as the beginning. And, in this last transition, I stayed an extended time hoping to help the church transition into a new, better season. (Lord willing they are. My successor has been named and I think he’s the perfect fit for the days ahead.)
I do believe, however, the way one exits a position says a lot about their leadership as they enter something new. Being strategic-minded as I am, I have always had an exit strategy. I know it is easier to follow a leader who finishes well, than one who leaves abruptly or under duress, so I have always wanted to be intentional about the way I leave. When leaving a church I planted, we were on good terms, and were going to something I believed God was calling Cheryl and I to do. I certainly wanted to help a church we still dearly loved in the transition.
Having recently left a church we helped revive, again we wanted to end in a way to protect the church going forward. We tried to be intentional.
It should be said, this post is based on the premise you are making the decision to leave, and the church cooperates with you in doing so. I realize that’s not always the case. I know some horror stories of how churches respond when a ministry leader resigns.
Here, in my opinion, are 8 ways to finish well:
Give ample time for goodbyes – This advice was given to me by several mentors. They said if people have enough time to process my leaving, they will more easily adjust after I’m gone. In both of the last two transitions, I gave the staff almost three months notice and the church two months. It was interesting to see people who were surprised when I was still around, but it allowed people to say personal goodbyes to me (and my wife).
Slow decision-making – I always tried to make fewer decisions, which had lasting implications. When my opinion on a decision was needed or warranted, I made certain I included other staff members in the conversation or made them aware of all the pertinent facts of the issue.
Give access to key leadership – We had lots of invitations for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We love all the people of both churches, but simply couldn’t accommodate all the requests we received. In the church plant, we were saying goodbye to family members also, so our time was even more limited. I especially tried to make myself available to key influencers within the church, including staff, elders, core members and volunteer leadership. I was even more diligent in prioritizing my time.
Answer questions – Transition of any kind raises questions, but especially when it doesn’t make immediate sense to people. I expected the “Why” questions and I answered them as best as I could. Sometimes it seemed I was answering the same question over and over again, even for the same people. That’s okay. I knew this was part of the process to assist people in the dealing with the transition.
Hand off tasks – I’m a huge proponent of delegating, but there were certain responsibilities I specifically handled. I tried to shift these responsibilities to others on staff, or help them to disappear altogether if needed. I also knew projects I was especially passionate about may not happen going forward, and, that’s okay. I also knew new and exciting projects would appear as others received more leadership responsibility.
Share information – As with any position, I hold information others don’t have. I tried over the last months to share things with others on the staff on a need-to-know basis. As I cleaned out my desk and files, I passed along pertinent information to other staff members.
Validate leadership – In both occasions, I believed in the leadership, which remained in place. If I didn’t, I would never have been open to leaving a church so dear to me. I took every opportunity presented (and created some on my own) to express my support for the staff and my confidence in the future. I truly believed my leaving created opportunities for new momentum shifts and positive energy and I expressed that sentiment repeatedly.
Remain accessible – I tried to maintain the close fellowship I had with the church staffs; especially leadership teams, and I remained open to assist them anyway that I could. Both churches will always hold a special place in my heart, and I want to help where I’m needed.
It’s hard to leave a church God allowed to begin in your living room; especially when things are going so incredibly well. It’s also hard to leave a healthy, established church where you know God used your leadership. Transition is tough. I want the churches I love to continue to thrive, so finishing well is critically important to me. I couldn’t determine the way people would react to my leaving. I could determine what I did to leave graciously and how I responded to their reaction.
The ultimate goal for me is to defy the title of this post. I’ll never really be “finished” as long as my heart remains with the church. Even if only through prayer and continued friendship, my intentionality towards Grace and Immanuel will remain for a lifetime.