Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Transitions and Saying Goodbye...

Change happens in ministry...and sometimes the change is you.  Part of being a pastor means changing churches when the Lord leads you to do so.  However, leaving the children and families that you have gotten so close to can be very difficult.  Personally, I am in the midst of such a change as I leave my current congregation to become a church plant pastor. (More about that another time)  But this is not the first time I've changed churches and though each time the situation is somewhat different, there are a few things you can do to make the move as easy as possible for all those involved.

First, plan for the day when you will resign to your children.  For me, because I am teaching children's church during the adult worship service, the senior pastor will generally read my resignation to the adults, but I tell the children myself.  I feel it is important that they hear the news from me.  So, I prepare a lesson all about following the Lord's lead in our lives wherever that path might go.  When the children understand how important it is to follow the Lord's leading, it makes it easier for them to understand why you are leaving.  That is not to say that it makes them miss you any less (or you them), but they do understand.  It's important that they realize that you are not just "leaving them", because some children will feel like they did something that made you leave or that you didn't like them enough to stay.  But when they realize that you are simply going where the Lord is sending you, that is a very different thing.

Second, sometimes when we leave, there are reasons that we can not discuss with the church body.  There will always be people who will wonder why you are leaving and if something or someone influenced your decision.  And at times, that might be the case but, and this is really important, even if you have a reason to make waves about why you are leaving...don't.  This is not easy if you feel like you have been wronged in some way.   In fact it might be the hardest thing you ever have to do in ministry, but it is the better path.  Making someone else look bad is only going to make you look worse...even if you are in the right.   Leave a legacy of love and understanding.  Not one of hurt feelings and pain.  Our job is to always leave the church better than when we arrived.

Thirdly, prepare for your successor.  Are there quirks about your area that a new person should know? Are there some helpful hints or lists of workers you can leave for the next person who has your position?  If so, it might be a good idea to leave them a note.  At one church where I served, the children's area had 4 thermostats of which only two worked and a huge set of closets full of supplies that I didn't realize had been there when I first arrived at the position.  So I made sure I left that information in my note.  Printing off lists of volunteers and any schedules you have available can also be a huge blessing to the next leader.  Leaving behind a list of events is helpful as well.  When I was the newbie at one of the churches I served, there was a huge event that I didn't realize I was supposed to have a children's program during until about two weeks before the event.  Because it was an event that had happened for so many years, people didn't realize that I wasn't in the loop for the details.  So, when I left, I made sure I left behind a list of all the main church events and what the children's department was responsible for at each of those events for the person who followed me.

Lastly...once someone else has your position, don't visit much for a while.  I'm not saying don't visit at all, but if it is in your means to wait until the new person has been there about 6 months or so, that will help the children attach to that new leader much easier.  If you keep showing up, the children will automatically look to you and not to the new leader and that is not fair to the children or your successor.  If you do decide to pop in for a visit, don't go back to the children's area until after church.  If you go there before service starts, it can be difficult for the leader to get the children's attention again and can disrupt the service flow.  After service, is a much better time to connect with everyone.

These are a few things that I've learned over the years.  Transitioning can be a challenge, but when God calls us to a new position, He will also lead us through the transition. 

Until next week!

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