The phone call comes. You are being offered a new appointment. The pressure’s on. You think. You pray. You talk it over with your family. You decide to accept the new appointment. You make your announcement, and begin to wind down your ministry at your current position. One of the most important things you can do as you prepare to leave an appointment, or any job for that matter, is to set the stage for who will follow you. How you handle your leaving, as well as how you educate you congregation or co workers, will highly influence the success or failure of your successor. I have served 5 appointments in local churches over my career and have found these principles to be helpful. These principles are based on the premise that you had a choice or an opportunity to ask reconsideration. I will address principles for moving without having a choice in another blog.
1. Own the move. When you make the public announcement, be clear that you have made the choice to move. Use “I” language. If you can honestly do this, assure them that you are not mad at anyone. If there has been conflict, don’t attack anyone.
2. Keep any private discussions about your decision consistent with your announcement. Don’t talk about your choice to accept the move in your announcement, and then in private conversations, tell people you didn’t want to move and you are being railroaded.
3. Begin to pray with the congregation concerning the decision process that will assign a new pastor. Believe me, bishops, district superintendents, and other church leaders need all the prayer we can get.
4. Don’t start any new initiatives.
5. Have specific conversations with committees, teams and leaders that include the following topics:
a. God has blessed your ministry together and you are grateful to them for their partnership.
b. Change is part of God’s plan
c. Tell them not to say to the new pastor, “Pastor X always did it this way,” unless the new pastor asks how you did it.
d. The ministry is about God not about you.
e. God has more great things to do in ministry at the church
f. Assure them it’s not the end
g. Be honest about discussing adjustments. Encourage them to work to get to know the new pastor and their family.
6. This is the hardest. Assure them that you will always love them, but after the change date, you are no longer their pastor. You cannot continue to run back for things and honestly give yourself to your new appointment. Yes, there may be exceptions, but you have to be very, very cautious not to get triangulated. You may find yourself crossing an ethical line.
7. Prepare good records. Meet with your successor prior to the change. Introduce them to staff or church members you run into together. Be sure to brief them on shut ins, people with specific pastoral needs, and any other nuances.
8. If there are some tasks that you were stuck with such as changing the altar candles, you might use the transition period to help the church get someone else to do it. After all, the new pastor is going to be busy adjusting to the new appointment.
9. When the new pastor’s name is announced, begin to pray for them by name in worship and any other settings.
10. Nip any rumors about the new pastor in the bud. Gossip and murmuring are not Christian and can undermine a pastor before they arrive.
11. Try to arrange your last Sunday to be at least 2 Sundays before your successor arrives. This gives the congregation some adjustment time so that they don’t say goodbye to you on one Sunday and hello to the new pastor family on the next.
Leaving can be tough. Pastors have a responsibility to do all they can to insure as smooth a transition as possible.