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?