As I ended my first discussion on “The Right Way to Leave” I said, “Ministry transitions can be filled with grace for everyone involved when handled with care and prayer.” In the course of writing that former post, it became clear that I had more to say on how not to leave your pastorate.
If you are not involved in pastoral ministry or have never been really close to a pastoral transition, this might not seem important to you. You could ponder, “what’s the big deal about how the pastor leaves? Does it matter as long as we get the right God-called pastor to come in?”
Yes. It does matter and here’s why. If the outgoing pastor does not leave well, there can be so much damage caused that the congregation is disjointed for a decade or two. I have seen it done wrong and I have listened as many have shared painful accounts.
Pastor, most of this has to do with timing. The right time to leave is according to God’s perfect timing. However, you have the ability to misunderstand God’s timing. Let me tell you straightly though, God does not change His mind (will) as often as we do.
Pastor, it’s best that you not resign in the midst of conflict (tweet this). These are usually emotionally driven decisions and not in the will of God. One bad business meeting or leadership failure does not require a resignation. God has called you to grow through those seasons and become better.
As well, you should not leave just because another congregation has expressed interest in you. Just because another church has a pastoral vacancy does not mean that God is through with you on your current assignment. Unless God has clearly moved in your heart and you KNOW the proposed assignment is His will for you, stay put!
Can you stay too long? The easy and obvious answer is yes. However, that is ultimately a decision that has to be made between you, your spouse, and God. Read this next line carefully. Never resign unless you are sure enough to load the moving truck today (click to tweet). Having a change of heart after having made a public resignation is almost always an impending disaster. You would be better off staying a little too long than resigning too soon and trying to rescind it.
Let’s assume though, that you have come to the leaving conclusion. You know that you have completed God’s will and it is time to move forward in life and ministry. Then, my friend, you should leave properly and totally.
What do I mean? Once your farewell sermon has been delivered and your last Sunday has been served, you should leave altogether. Leave and quickly set up some healthy boundaries with the people.
What does such a departure look like? It means that you should be moved out of the parsonage as soon as possible. During the week following your last Sunday, return every single key. If you drive a church-owned vehicle, give it back as soon as possible.
This next line is going to be hard. This also means you should remove yourself from the congregation. I know you think you will be the exception to this rule, but keep reading. The retired or former pastor staying in the congregation as an attending member is almost always a bad idea. The new pastor, regardless of how seasoned and secure, will have difficulty with you still being in the mix of the congregation. Even if the new pastor gives you the blessings to do so, leave anyway. The staff members and lay leaders will maintain their loyalty to the former pastor and be torn in their hearts as to who they should follow. Your continued presence will only cause division even with your best intentions.
Pastor, I will caution you again. If you leave without actually leaving, but stay in the mix as advisor emeritus, you will leave wrongly.
When you have publicly resigned as their shepherd, the sheep will go through a wide range of emotions in the ensuing weeks. Some will be mad, some will be glad, and some will be sad. If you have served them well, more will be sad than glad. They will miss you and it will take them some time to process how God is working. Be aware though, even the kindest of sheep can turn and bite the shepherd during this transitional time. Forgive and forget the offense. These sheep are simply grieving and looking for answers.
Lastly, let me state the obvious. Leaving is a time of great sensitivity. You need to be Spirit-led during this transition. As graciously as you possibly can, leave well. Leave well, my pastor friend. Leave well.
The next part I will deal with is how to begin your next pastorate well. You know you want to click over and read “7 Essential Guidelines for Pastors Entering a New Pastorate.”