Thursday, March 6, 2014

Suggestions and Examples of Good Leaving for a Preacher

     The preacher is leaving.

     It is my thinking that is it helpful for the preacher and the congregation to acknowledge this reality and plan for it. The best time to begin this process is when the preacher comes or earlier – during the interview process. When I was talking with the elders of Berry‟s Chapel during the fall and winter of 1992-1993, I told them that I wanted to do interim ministry in the future. Perhaps this made our relationship better and maybe this was my first interim although I was there fourteen years.

     I did “pre-marital counseling” with one preacher and congregation a few years ago. We talked about him leaving that congregation before he started working with them. We discussed how they would treat his wife and children should he die during his time with them. I asked them how they would like to be informed should he decide to move to another work. I made suggestions and we discussed how to apply the golden rule in dismissing a preacher from his work. It is my observation that it is easier to discuss those topics when they have not happened. We lay a foundation of agreements that will be helpful when the change occurs. 

     The elders at Berry‟s Chapel and I discussed my leaving each year at my evaluation. “Are you still planning to do interim ministry?,” they would ask. In the fall of 2003, they asked if I had a date in mind. They said my contract called for ninety days notice. They wanted more time than that. The elders assured me they were not trying to rush the event but simply wanted us to plan. 

     After coming up with a transition plan, we announced my leaving during a family meeting June 13, 2004. I was to finish my work the first Sunday of April 2007. In a later announcement, the elders said, “To our knowledge, in the 105 year history of this congregation, there has never been a planned transition. We would like to try it one time and see how it works.” 

      From my perspective, this worked well. As we were approaching twenty months remaining, my wife and I decided that a visit with each family would be a good way to say good-bye. We started and the beginning and end of the directory and worked toward the middle. We visited 95% of the families in the congregation. These visits were in their homes, our homes, at restaurants, and at the church building. It was a good way to express appreciation for the time we enjoyed with that congregation, to talk about our departure, and the work we planned to do in the future. 

     During the last six months, I had a “workshop Sunday night” each month. I selected some of my favorite sermons – some that I had preached there before and some that I had not preached – and delivered them. I used some lessons that I had presented at workshops and special services at other congregations. Several people told me that I should have resigned earlier because I was preaching better after I announced my departure. 

     From time to time, I would mention what I would miss about this congregation and what the time with them had meant to me and my family. This is the time to express gratitude for time shared – not how great the next place is going to be. 

     The outgoing preacher should finish his work and see that necessary things are covered. It is good to see that the next preacher is provided with information that will help his ministry start well. I delivered a lesson on how to treat the new preachers. Wes Gallagher had recently begun working with the congregation. Andy Baker would be following me in the pulpit. 

     It is no credit to any preacher and his ministry for the work to go down and the congregation to dislike the next preacher. The leaving preacher can be helpful in preparing for the change. 

     John the Baptist had the right idea for transition when he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Jesus is a model for preparing for change: “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Matthew 16:21). Although it did not take away the hurt and confusion, when the apostles worked though their disorientation and disappointment, they did what Jesus commanded and trained them to do – carry the gospel to the world. 

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