Exit Etiquette

Last night I  finished a great ministry in an awesome church.  Not all exits are bad.  In our case, God was moving me into church planting - so leaving was bittersweet.  United  respected our decision and loved us till the end.

That said, the way you leave a ministry says a lot about you as a leader.  The calling of God does not end when a man resigns.  The way you leave will define your ministry in the minds of that congregation for years to come.  How can you be sure you leave...well?

1.  Understand your role.  You are no longer their pastor but you can still offer helpful advice that will aid their transition.
... be an encourager.  It is perfectly natural for a church to think "What's wrong with us?" when a man they love resigns for another work.  You need to be sensitive to their needs and affirm them.
... be helpful.  Help the church publicize the vacancy and include contact info of members of the pulpit committee.
... put together a list of immediate needs the church should address.  If you know a family is planning to leave, let someone know who will visit them.  If the office needs some updating, encourage them to use this time to dress it up.  If there are ministries or business items you have been handling, chances are the church has taken it for granted and doesn't know what needs doing.
... teach them to put together a helpful packet for potential candidates that includes stats, budget info, salary package, community info, church-expectations, etc.  The packet should also include a "methodology" for calling the next preacher (details of the process you are following).
... don't control the process or the selection of a replacement.  While some churches hire a "pastor-in-waiting" who will spend time being groomed as your replacement, most do not.  Now that you have resigned try to stay out of their business UNLESS they ask for your input.

2.  Set the table for your predecessor.  Teach your congregation about breaking away from you... about not expecting too much too quickly from the next preacher... to not make unfair comparisons. After the transition is made, don't invite negative talk about the new guy.  Pray for their success. Pray the church would support them.  Encourage people to get behind the new pastor.
... leave any relevant information that will be helpful to the next pastor - from stats to budget info - from membership roles to officer/teacher info.
... tie up loose ends.  If there is an incomplete project, finish it if possible.  Encourage them to have a work day to ready the property for the new guy so he won't have to focus on those things right away. If the church has a parsonage, provide a list of things you would like to see fixed, improved, or changed if YOU were the one being hired.

3.  Preach challenging messages that will focus the church on the task at hand.  Remind them of their purpose.  Fix their minds on the future.  Challenge them to growth.  Warn them against division. Encourage them to pray for the pulpit committee.  DON'T USE THE PULPIT AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO GET IN A PARTING SHOT!

Exit etiquette.  It matters.  I have followed men and thought, "What a great pastor they were!"  And I have followed men and thought, "I wonder if his new church has any idea what they have gotten themselves into?"  If you must leave, leave WELL!!

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