Several of my friends (on line and in real life), as well as my wife, are expected to move to new appointments this year. Since I don’t have to move, I’m in the perfect position to give unsolicited advice on leaving an appointment. The only problem here is that someone will direct me to my own words when my moving day appears. Even so, I can’t resist.
There is often unacknowledged temptation to be the super-pastor, hard at work up to the minute the moving van pulls off. Totally Unrealistic, and Inappropriate! Once the announcement is out that you are moving, you’ve basically “left” in the minds of the people. That’s normal, and healthy, as they begin to disengage from your leadership. That disengagement prepares them to more readily engage the new leadership when she/he arrives. So don’t disrupt it. You might dislike the teasing of being a “lame-duck” pastor, but realize that the lame-duck status is necessary and right. Accept the new status as a mandate to giving time to cleaning out files and books and “stuff,” and giving good attention to your own family members. That said, here are my three simple rules for moving from an appointment.
1. Let go what you’ve left undone.
This is often the hardest thing to do. We all have things in our ministry that we didn't really get to, or only partially got done. There are people we still feel the need to visit or counsel. Leave all of these as they presently are – undone, and definitely do not propose or start anything new! Your work is finished there, except for a few acts of closure and celebration. Trust God to care for those who need caring for and to carry the church through the transition. Let go of it. Your ministry in this place, as all ministry, will be incomplete. Draw a line in the sand and give your attention to a good transition.
2. Say goodbye with gratitude, but without promises.
Every pastor has a few people they tend to grow closer to than the rest of the congregation. Maybe you’ve been through difficult times with them, or you just “connected” as friends. Make a short list of these and make a way to say goodbye. Let there be gratitude for the journey shared, but avoid any promises that suggest you can continue to be a pastor to them. Tell the ones you leave that their new relationship to you as “friend” will not be the same as the one they’ve had to you as their “pastor friend.” Whoever your successor is, speak positively of him/her, and encourage the people to make the new pastor feel welcomed and loved as they have done so for you. And don’t overlook staff members in this process.
3. Don’t assume the transition will be good, make it good.
Get your sermons and worship notes for the first six weeks already lined up. You know you will have to write introductory articles for either a bulletin or newsletter. Go ahead and prepare them. And keep a couple of your decent funeral messages on hand. Free yourself from tasks you can expect so you can focus on settling in, and on putting your energies into meeting the new people.
Leave behind “descriptive” (as opposed to “advisory”) notes about things your successor will need to know, as well as an up-dated membership list, a list of shut-in’s and current critical care needs, positive words about people, job descriptions, the name of a trustworthy car mechanic, a list of your favorite restaurants, and, a written prayer for God’s blessing on her/his ministry. And finally, God’s already way out ahead of you and you’re already playing catch-up, so don’t go back.