Advice to Pastors Upon Leaving a Congregation

Dear Fellow Clergy,

I have recently experienced a six-week process of saying “goodbye” to my congregation and turning toward a new call. I have learned a lot about the call process and transitions during this time and I thought I might be so bold as to share some advice and wisdom.

I was given two books to read, Ten Commandments for Pastors Leaving a Congregation, by Lawrence Farris and Running Through the Thistles, by Roy Oswald. I found both resources helpful. I was given the advice after leaving my first job, back in the day, to always leave your job better than when you started. How you leave is how you are remembered. I have always tried to live up to that standard.

Here is my advice:

1. Don’t anticipate how people are going to feel when they hear the news you are leaving. You can’t control or change their feelings. You may be disappointed that people don’t express the feelings you expected. Check your ego at the door. The world will go on after you leave.

2. Your time of grieving and dealing with change will be different from the organization’s time process. The two of you will not be in sync. This is a good thing. The congregation won’t realize that you are leaving until the very end. You will realize you are leaving at the beginning.

3. You do not belong to the church. You belong to God. You do not belong to the church. You belong to God.

4. Be sure to reconcile with as many people who you didn’t get along with as possible. It’s good for the soul to clear the air and mend broken fences.

5. Keep doing your job. Leave the interim with all of the recourses, references and referrals they need to start work. I made a binder of policies, phone numbers and calendars, so everything was in one place.

6. Keep doing your job. Visit people in the nursing home. This will be hard, but visit them, for the last time.

7. Keep doing your job. Preach strong. Focus on the Word, not on your own agenda. Give them good Heavenly Food to chew on.

8. Acknowledge your own grief. Let them know how painful this is for you. Be honest.

9. Acknowledge their grief. Be prepared for grief to be voiced in anger, tears and silence.

10. Take care of yourself. Get exercise. Eat healthy. Rest.

11. Pay attention to the Spirit at work around you. The Holy Spirit is so active during times of transition. Listen. God is speaking.

12. Be ready to be totally emotionally exhausted. There is no way to go through the process without depleting yourself. The good news is that you will be replenished.

13. Be not afraid.

14. Take good care of your family. We were very honest and upfront with our kids. We talked openly about feelings and let them express moments of grief and fear. We reminded them of three important things. 1. You always have yourself with you. Like yourself. Believe in yourself. Take your awesome self with you. 2. You always have your family. We have your back. We love you. You will always have us. 3. You always have God. God is with you and will give you strength and courage.

15. Go out with your friends. Drink wine.

16. Tell the people who made a difference in your ministry how much they mean to you. Tell them they mattered. Tell them they made a difference and you are grateful.

17. Play loud music in the car. Go see a movie. Do something that gets the stress off of your mind, for a couple of hours.

18. Let go of regrets. You did your best. You are not perfect. You didn’t get everything done. You let people down. You are human. Give yourself a break. Believe in the Grace you preach.

19. Say “thank you.”

20. Pray Often

God Speed,
Shelly

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