When I first felt the release from my assignment in Montgomery, I wasn’t sure if it was the pizza I had the night before, the frustration I was feeling in my current position, or if it was God nudging me in a new direction.
This had happened to me before, so I decided to wait and pray. I didn’t tell anyone, not even my wife for the first several weeks, while I sought the Lord. After a few weeks, I realized that this may be the direction I should go, so I asked my wife to pray as well, and I reached out to a couple of my mentors to help me think and pray. Jim Wideman’s Stay or Go resource was invaluable at the time. His best quote was, “If it’s time for you to leave, it has to be good for you and for the church.”
As I started to look around my situation, I realized that while it may be a good for me to go, it was not good for the church. We were launching our first multi-site campus, in the middle of a capital campaign, and I was building a volunteer team to handle both campuses. If I had left then, it would have severely hurt the current mission of the church. So, I decided to stay. A few months later, the time was right, and I started to look again.
When we make a decision like this, especially in church world, a big question is, “When do I tell my boss/pastor?” It seems to me that most senior leaders fall into two categories: tell me soon so I can help and plan, or don’t tell me, unless you’re ready to clean out your desk today. Years earlier, I had asked my pastor which he would prefer. Thankfully, he was the former and became a great resource and confidant as I searched for my next place.
After months of searching and countless hours of interviews, I finally found the place God was calling me and my family, but now the real work began. I had to tell the church and put a succession plan in motion. The good news is that I had been working on it for years. The bad news was that I had to make it all happen in a month.
Here are five things I found that helped me leave well:
- Prepare your people for leaving. Over the years I had built a leadership team and frequently reminded them that we won’t be in our current position forever.They always scoffed at me saying one day I would go, but I was serious, and I think they knew that.To prepare for my departure years before, I began to let a few key volunteers in on my planning process and trained the leadership team to plan a ministry calendar and budget.I helped them along the way, and a few times I let them do the planning and checked their work.This served two purposes: they were becoming better leaders and learned how to do it without me.When I told them I was leaving, there were tears and a little shock, but they had a quiet confidence in knowing that they can do their job successfully.
- Pick a successor. Some senior leaders don’t want you to do this or will not like your pick.
That’s their prerogative.After all, they are staying and you’re leaving.However, I was blessed with several high capacity volunteers who showed great potential.Several years into serving, I told one of them that they could do my job and asked to start training them to do it.Over the next several years, she became a great resource, leader, and friend I could count on.When I told my pastor that I was looking for a new church, his first question to me, was “Who can take over your position when you leave?”I gave him my leader’s name, and why she would be best.Thankfully she’s serving in my former position and doing a great job.
- Give away as much as possible.Someone once said, “work yourself out of a job.” A common fear is, if I give everything away, I won’t have anything to do.I can tell you from experience that this isn’t true.As I gave more away, I was given more responsibilities and was able to focus on what I could do the best.From day one of serving at my last church, I trained and delegated as much of my responsibilities as I could. When it was time for me to leave, I had a whole team that knew how to keep the ship running and provide the same experience whether I was there or not.
- Honor the most valuable relationships. When the time comes to leave, it may seem easier to tell everyone at once. You may be tempted make an announcement from the stage and be done with it.But that may burn some bridges and hurt your chances of leaving well.At any church there are people that are closer to you than others.When I started to get the message out, I told my senior leader, then the staff, the support staff, my top-level leaders, my leadership team, my volunteers, and finally the whole congregation (yes, there were some people left).This may seem excessive, but I had a different level of relationship with each group. They all had questions unique to their relationship to me and the ministry.If I don’t do anything else again, I would do this. It allowed for questions to be answered, hurt feelings to be heard, and assurances to be made.I love these people and they love me and my family. It was well worth the time and emotional energy to say goodbye again and again.
- Follow the direction of your senior leader. As I said before, the senior leader is staying with the ministry you’re leaving, so follow their instructions and their timeline.My situation was frustrating, because I accepted my new position on the first day of my Pastor’s three-week vacation.He had already told the pastoral staff, a few of the support staff, and my successor but no one else, especially the board.I was asked to wait and do nothing with the news for weeks, because he wanted to tell the board before the news got out.I understood his position and supported it. However, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel impatient at times.Thankfully, I have a loving wife that kept me in line.When he came back from vacation, we worked out a plan and followed it.I kept him updated on progress and was able to leave on great terms.
Leaving something you’ve invested your life in for years is always hard, but I think if you do these things, it’ll help you be more successful in your current ministry as well as when it’s time for you to go.