No matter what style or size of church you serve in, no matter what title you have behind your name, there is one thing that every person in ministry has in common. At some point in the near or distant future, you will leave your current ministry position.
Unfortunately these leadership transitions often result in unnecessary damage to both the ministry staff person and the church because there was no plan in place when it came time for the leader to leave. I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember any class in Bible College or the latest ministry conference I attended that helped prepare ministry leaders to leave well.
I think we would all quickly agree that leaving well saves a lot of heartache for all involved. What we might not consider is that the way we leave affects the place we are going just as much as the place we are leaving. If you supervise staff, the same principle applies. How ministry staff exit your team affects the ministry they are going to just as much as it effects your ministry.
I recently had coffee with a long time leader in college ministry named Mike who shared about his upcoming retirement and his organization’s plan for helping him leave his position well. At its heart, the strategy is about leverage leaving for a greater future impact. There are four steps.
The first step is to prepare to release responsibility and relationships in your current position. The ministry leaders I know, give 110% and devote themselves to the people they serve. This makes releasing especially difficult when it comes time to transition. Before exiting the position, prepare yourself or your staff member to let go and not be surprised at the very normal loss that comes with the change in roles. There is also a normal desire to want to protect that ministry, which may cause a leader to hold on too tightly or stay involved too long. If you are leaving a position but not leaving the church, releasing will mean being strategically uninvolved in that particular ministry area until new leadership is established. Fully letting go of the responsibilities and authority of that position will also help you have both hands free to grab hold of what God wants next for you.
The second step is to rest. When moving from one position to the next, sometimes we don’t leave any cushion between past and future. Typically, we have some room to negotiate when it comes to start dates as we move into a new position. Strategically schedule time to rest and refresh during the transition. You need it. When you schedule time to rest, really rest. We’re only fooling ourselves if we take a week off, but use that time to read the latest book on church growth while sketching out a strategic plan for the next 90 days of ministry. Those are actually good things, but not rest. Do things that fill your tank and give you energy. If you are in a supervisory role and you can do it, give your staff member that is exiting financial support as they take time to rest.
The third step is to refocus. It’s important to ask good questions during the transition. What are my areas of strength and God given talent? What do I love doing? What changes have occurred in me during the last stretch of ministry that have taught me about my unique call to ministry? If you are married, ask your spouse, “What do you think I am best suited for in ministry?” Schedule time to pray, journal and get counsel from those you trust. I believe God wants to give us the gift of insight when we leave a ministry position. This is true whether you are leaving because of your decision or the church’s decision. Take advantage of it. Also, if it has been a painful leave, there are many retreat centers across the nation to help ministry leaders gain clarity and healing as they begin the next chapter. Practically speaking, this could also be a time to invest in some personality or leadership style assessments, get needed training and put more tools in your ministry tool belt.
Finally, move forward and reengage. This starts by reengaging with the people in your new area of ministry. If you had great friends in your previous setting it can be hard to do the work of establishing new relationships. The reason you had close relationships in the previous church is probably not because they were more loving and nicer people. It’s probably because you did the hard work to connect, get to know them and have shared experiences. Take the bull by the horns on this one and start building new relationships. This is key to leading well. You cannot lead well if you don’t love well. You also have to reengage when it comes to the culture and systems of your new environment. You can’t just bring everything you did in the previous church and apply it to this new setting. A good leader learns the culture and contextualizes leadership in that culture. Here is a quick tip. Principles transfer much more effectively than programs. Principles about people and leadership are typically universal.
If you are transitioning into a new position, leverage leaving for greater future impact. Release. Rest. Refocus. Reengage. Everyone involved will be healthier for it.
This is a guest post by Brian LaMew who serves as the Pastor of Campus Development at Sun Valley Community Church where he provides leadership to Sun Valley’s Campus Pastors. You can keep up with Brian on Twitter or Facebook.