How to ruin your exit from your church

imprrh@gmail.com —  August 5, 2014

Story #1 Early in my ministry I was transferred from a church where I had developed close, deep relationships. It was very difficult for me to disconnect. So I didn’t. Needless to say, it did not make the next pastor very comfortable. Huge mistake on my part. Should have known better.

Story #2 I was assigned to pastor a church where the previous pastor had served for over 10 years (a rarity in Hispanic churches). He came over once a year, because his daughter was a member there. Him and his wife where instrumental in having the church love and accept my leadership. I will forever be grateful. He did things right.

Once a pastor leaves the church, there are some things he must NOT do. I personally do not remember learning these in seminary, so I hope you don’t make the same mistakes as I did.

1. Do not continue to pastor them.

I have heard horror story after horror story about pastors that return to the district often to marry, baptize, bury, dedicate babies, visit people in the hospital and counsel. My first question is: Don’t you have enough work in your present church? Frankly, that excuse that “they were the ones that searched me out” or “I didn’t want to make them feel bad” or “what’s the problem with keeping in touch” don’t hold much water. This is where preparation for your exit is paramount. Sitting down with the board and letting the church know that they need to rely on their new pastor instead of you goes a long way. I have had pastors tell me about showing up for an event or a home visit and finding the previous pastor there. Like they say in ESPN “come on man!”

2. Do not stay there.

Except for rare, extremely rare, occasions, go ahead and move.

a. If you retire, move.

b. If you transition into another employment, move.

c. If you were let go, for sure move.

Don’t ask the pastor if it’s ok if you stay, either. He/she will say yes. They don’t mean it. Even if it sounds convincing, go.

3. Do not try to influence the search of a new pastor.

Pastors are in the business of building God’s kingdom, not their own little kingdom. The new pastor is sometimes seen as a threat to the old regime, especially if he/she is bringing in new ideas or wants to make any changes. I remember an occasion receiving a phone call from another country questioning the actions of a new pastor in a church under my supervision as Hispanic Ministries Director. The pastor on the other line had been a pastor there and was receiving calls from members that were upset. Why do we do that?

Here is another big one: Don’t get on search committees, don’t use backroom politics and for the love of God, don’t influence the board previous to your departure.

4. Do not triangulate.

The new pastor will make mistakes. He/she is not as awesome as you, that’s for sure. It’s easy to get caught up in becoming a shoulder to cry on. Be firm. Be specific. Be clear. You do not listen to any conversations that have to do with the previous pastor. I believe we do this for our ego, more than for the cause of Christ. Also, see #2 again.

 

Hopefully we can all learn from past mistakes and be remember as story #2 instead of #1.

What are some other good recommendations you would give? Leave your comments in the appropriate section.

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One response to How to ruin your exit from your church

  1. Roger shares some very good advice for those who are called to a new place. One other suggestion would be to limit your return engagements. Often members will beg for you to return to do their baptism, wedding, funeral etc. I would make this a rare occurrence and even then, only with full communication with the pastor in place.