That time has come for your departure. The question is, ďHow well are you going to navigate that departure?Ē Should be easy, right? Cut and dried. Often it is not.
Departures as a result of retirement or unforced resignation generally have all sorts of positive albeit emotional components associated with them. I will assume you can navigate the tears, the combined joy and sadness, and all the nuances associated with tearing away from a place where you have invested a major portion of your life. It is the other departures on which I want to focus.
Once a board has asked for your resignation or you have submitted your resignation under a cloud of non-moral failure or you have a culture of dissatisfaction at the church, what do you do? How do you depart correctly? How do you not burn bridges?
Letís address the issue of being asked to leave. The emotional pain of this circumstance often sets a pastor up to think and act in a way contrary to his normal method of operation. Regardless of who is right in these circumstances, it is critical that the pastor map out his exit strategy in a way that honors the church even if the church is not honoring of him. Consider the following:
- Your calling is from God, not man. NEVER forget that!
- Taking the high road in response to wrongs that have been done to you will always result in right standing before God and man.
- Even if you lose on these issues, always stand for the care of your family relative to severance, health insurance, etc. Always do so with a God-honoring spirit.
- While standing for what is right and what you believe you have done that is right, do not allow yourself to be drawn into an ugly debate on pastor/board power issues. Frankly, if that is the issue, either you were not successful in guiding the board in understanding their authority, or they understand it and are simply operating contrary to it. In either case, you do not want to be there.
- You may consider looking at this action as a blessing, not a curse. When you step back from the action of the board leadership to ask you to leave, you really might see something very good for your future.
- If the board leadership is right in asking for your resignation, both you and the church will see bright days ahead, regardless of how dark it seems now.
- If the board leadership is wrong in asking for your resignation, you will remain blessed if you depart well, and the church will embark on a very dark path in the days to come. But the consequences for them are not for you to determine.
- Never allow your supporters to draw you into a negative discussion of your circumstances. Loose lips will abound.
- Do not be bitter.
- If the church throws you a going-away reception, do not view it as phony. Smart board leadership will do this for the sake of the church. Even if they think your performance was unsatisfactory, the church is remiss in not giving people the opportunity to express appreciation to their pastor. Allow them to do so.
- Donít do a pity party.
- Go gracefully. Even if they do not throw you a reception, be graceful, and speak well of those who persecute you.
On the other hand, when considering your departure as initiated by you, an entirely different set of emotions abound. Often the sense of failure is at the forefront of your mind. There may be dissatisfaction on many fronts. Maybe you have been unable to move the church and board forward as you had once dreamed. Maybe you have leadership issues either at the board or staff level.
Pastors who depart under these circumstances will often note that their time is completed at the church. In fact, that may be true, but often they are simply exhausted from beating their heads against the wall. They are acutely aware of their own inadequacies yet feel that somehow, if circumstances had been slightly different, they could have experienced the growth for which they had longed.
After it is said and done, departures under these circumstances can be deceptive and tricky. Consider the following:
- You must work diligently to be honest with yourself. If you failed, you need to own up to it but not consider yourself a failure.
- Donít blame others. Circumstances could have been better, but you are the leader and the buck stops with you. Donít point fingers.
- In your lowest moments, hold your head high. You are called of God to serve even in your imperfections and even in crummy circumstances. You are NOT a failure. You probably could have done a whole bunch of things different and better. Those things and the recognition of the same will make you better for the future.
- Resist the temptation for your tongue to exercise tinges of sarcasm designed to cast aspersion on the church or people in the church.
- Walk away in a state of dignity. Do not allow the enemy to convince you of any other state.
- Do not be bitter.
- When a going-away reception is thrown, do not allow yourself to feel like the kind words expressed to you are phony. They are not. Regardless of what you or others define as success, you touched some people and they are eternally grateful that you did. Receive those words with gratitude.
- Even when the church is unkind to you, do not allow yourself to engage in reciprocal treatment. Honor the church and the lay leadership even if they are wrong. Do not condone wrong behavior, but be careful not to get into a ďHe said, she saidĒ exchange.
In short, leaving well is one of the highest acts of spiritual and professional conduct to be exhibited by a pastor. Never allow yourself to accept anything else. Walk rightly whether people or circumstances are right or fair. Demonstrate godly conduct in all you do. Speak well of the church and others. Be upright in all you do. The Lord will honor you for having done so. After all, He is the one who we desire most to please.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dick Hardy is the Founder and President of The Hardy Group, an Executive Consulting firm for senior pastors of churches. Everything but preaching is his theme. Dealing with the stuff that keeps you up at night is his focus.
Dick brings a wealth of experience to the table for pastors when dealing with the tough issues of the church relative to growth, organization, leadership, administration, and change. His service as Administrative Pastor at two mega churches and as Vice President at a flagship denominational Bible college makes him a resource your church will want to retain.
Copyright © 2008 by Dick Hardy. Permission is granted for the free redistribution of this article. You may contact Dick at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website www.thehardygroup.org.