Everyone loves a happy ending.
If you follow this blog, you know I’m in a season of transition from one church to another. Recently someone on the search team from the new church asked me to reflect on how best to finish well. I don’t know that I’m the right one to do that. Although I have had some experience ending, I’m not sure how well I’ve always done.
I do believe, however, that the way one exits a position says a lot about their leadership as they enter something new. Being strategic-minded as I am, I do have an exit strategy. I know it is easier to follow a leader who finishes well, than one who leaves abruptly or under duress, so I want to be intentional about the way I leave. I’m leaving a church I planted and on good terms, going to something I believe God is calling Cheryl and I to do, so I certainly want to help a church we still dearly love in the transition.
Here, in my opinion, are 8 ways to finish well:
Give ample time for goodbyes – This advice was given to me by several mentors. They said that if people have enough time to process my leaving, they will more easily adjust after I’m gone. I will have given the staff almost three months notice and the church two months. It’s been interesting lately to see people who are surprised when I’m still around. I guess this part of the strategy is working.
Slow decision-making – I’ve tried to make fewer decisions that have lasting implications. When my opinion on a decision is needed or warranted, I’ve made certain I included other staff members in the conversation or made them aware of all the pertinent facts of the issue.
Give access to key leadership – We have had lots of invitations for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We love all the people of Grace, but simply can’t accommodate all the requests we have received. We are saying goodbye to family members also, so our time is limited. I have especially tried to make myself available to key influencers within the church, including staff, elders, core members and volunteer leadership. I’ve been even more diligent in prioritizing my time.
Answer questions – Transition of any kind raises questions, but especially when it doesn’t make immediate sense to people. I expected the “Why” questions and I answered them as best as I could. Sometimes it has seemed I am answering the same question over and over again, even for the same people. That’s okay. I know this was part of the process to assist people in the dealing with the transition.
Hand off tasks – I’m a huge proponent of delegating, but there were certain responsibilities that I specifically handled. I’ve tried to shift these responsibilities to others on staff, or help them to disappear altogether if needed. A few projects I was especially passionate about may not happen now, but I also know that new and exciting projects will appear as others receive more leadership responsibility.
Share information – As with any position, I hold information others don’t have. I’ve tried over the last few months (and will continue) to share things with others on the staff on a need-to-know basis. As I clean out my desk and files, I’m passing along pertinent information to other staff members.
Validate leadership – I believe in the leadership that remains in place at Grace. If I didn’t, I would never have been open to leaving a church so dear to me. I have taken every opportunity presented (and created some on my own) to express my support for the staff and my confidence in the future of Grace. I truly believe my leaving creates opportunities for new momentum shifts and positive energy. I’ve expressed that sentiment repeatedly.
Remain accessible – I hope to maintain the close fellowship I have with the Grace staff and I will remain open to assist them anyway that I can. I am willing to invest in Grace going forward…not just for a year…but for a lifetime, as requested. Grace will always hold a special place in my heart. In a practical sense, I plan to keep my Grace email account active for many months after my departure…maybe as long as a year. I realize there may be future attempts from people to connect with me who may not keep up with the church on a regular basis.
It’s hard to leave a church God allowed to begin in your living room; especially when things are going so incredibly well. Transition is tough. I want the church I love to continue to thrive, so finishing well is critically important to me. I can’t determine the way people will react to my leaving. I can determine what I do to leave graciously and how I respond to their reaction.
The ultimate goal for me is to defy the title of this post. I’ll never really be “finished” as long as my heart remains with the church. Even if only through prayer and continued friendship, my intentionality towards Grace will remain for a lifetime.
What suggestions do you have for finishing well?
“If it weren’t for those __________ churches…”
I will never forget that statement.
I was in my mid-twenties, serving on a board of the local non-profit. We were discussing how we could raise more support for the organization. I had participated most of my working career (which was obviously short at that point), financially contributing personally and helping them raise funds. Every year we had the same discussion. How could we raise more money to do more good?
In the middle of our discussion, a greatly respected and leading businessman in our community made that statement. “If it weren’t for those _______churches we would have plenty of money. All churches do is take from the community, serve their own interests, and rob the community of needed money for charity.” The room instantly echoed and agreed with his bold remark. I was young and intimidated, so I said nothing.
Honestly, however, those words stung. As an active member of one of the largest church in town, I didn’t believe anything he was saying. Our church, along with most churches in our community, were doing good things to help people. If all we did was change people’s lives and send better people back into the community, we would be doing good things, but there were many church-connected ministries helping people in our city. Not to mention, many of the top contributors to this organization were active members of some of those same churches. (I was one of them.)
I never forgot those words though. It shaped me and my view of ministry.
Years later, when God placed the dream on my heart to plant a church in my hometown, I knew some of what that church would look like. Not that I seek the approval of man, but I wanted to be a part of a church that reversed that paradigm some have from the outside looking into the church. I wanted to be part of a church that would truly make a difference in our community, so much so that if we were gone, people would miss us.
One of the first things we did as a church was to partner with our city to reach some low income, impoverished areas of the community. For the past several years, once a year, we have put together as many as 1,400 people to invest in people outside the walls of our church. We sent over 800 people into our schools to meet the requests of principals in teachers completing things their budgets couldn’t afford to do. We participated with local radio stations to gather thousands of pounds of food for the poor. We’ve helped to launch a ministry to homeless people and one to military wives. We’ve been consistently called upon by our community to help with local festivals and events, and even by our mayor to help in flood recovery efforts.
My wife, who works in a local credit union and is active in the community is frequently asked, “Are you part of that church that’s always helping people?” We love that question. We both get it often.
I think our intentional investment is one of the primary reasons our church has grown into one of the fastest growing churches in America in a little over 6 years.
Please understand, I’m not trying to brag about what we are doing. I believe other churches are making a huge difference in their community; certainly many more than ours. I simply want to encourage any church I lead to show our city the love of Jesus and maybe even encourage your church (and mine) to do more. I think we have a better chance of reaching our cities for Christ if they know we care. The more we get out of our buildings and meet real needs, the more we’ll have opportunities to share the hope we know is in Christ.
In my time at Grace, we’ve tried to be intentional about letting our community know we love them…and so far…it is working. I’ve got a new assignment in ministry ahead and in my discussions so far, I’m encouraging this church also to greatly invest in it’s community.
Share with me. What is your church doing to display the love of Christ to your community in a practical way?
I’ll explain more in the days to come, but Cheryl and I made a video recently. We shared it with the church yesterday. It’s one of the hardest videos I’ve ever had to make, but it feels great to be in the center of God’s will.
And without faith it is impossible to please God.