Timeline, Transition plans, and Temptations
A couple of weeks ago I shared the four reasons to consider moving on from your church and three tools that you can use to determine whether it is time to move on or not. Today, I'd like to share a few things to think through before you move on: timeline, transition plans, and temptations.
As you begin your search, you are going to want to plan for your search to take 8-12 months. We'll pray that it goes quicker than that, but being ready for a prolonged search is going to help ensure that you land in the right place. To do this, you need to ask yourself three questions:
- How long can I remain in place until it begins to harm my soul? If you are in a healthy environment, this could be as long as 18 months, unhealthy environments are much less. Either way, when you know it is time to move on, the clock begins to tick and you will need to move on sooner, rather than later, in order to avoid damage to your spiritual life. My rule of thumb is to take the number that you come up with and divide it by two in order to get a more accurate understanding of how long you can remain in place.
- What is my family's financial runway? We all have financial needs. This is the reality of life. As you begin to think through your transition you will need to sit down and look at your finances to determine how long you can go without work. Some of us have the capacity to live off of savings for 90 days or longer, others can go for 3-4 weeks. Understanding this number ahead of time will help you make better decisions if you need to move on from your current role before having something else lined up.
- What do we do if there is a gap? Once you understand how long you are able to stay in place and have a clear understanding of your financial runway, your next step is to ask yourself how you will address the gap, if there is one. What are some ways to be able to cut costs and make up your income in the interim period?
Most of the time we know that we will be leaving our church far sooner than anyone else. As a minister, someone entrusted to care well for those under our span of care, part of our job is to do what is within our power to ensure a smooth transition. With this in mind, I would encourage you to think through three things in the time leading up to your announcement:
- Prep the next guy: Take the time to sit down and put together a transition file. Write down all of your passwords for church technology accounts, develop a file on your volunteers that shares strengths and weaknesses, and share what you can about what you are doing and why. Give the next person all of the information that you wish you had when starting the job. One note: do not poison the well. If you are leaving on bad terms, create this file from as neutral a voice as possible.
- Pack things up: Take the time to prepare the ministry to be without a leader. Start to step back from up-front responsibilities and elevate other leaders. Help your current team develop the confidence to lead (without communicating what you are doing) so that they can easily own parts of the ministry when you leave. Lastly, don't start any new initiatives in the last 12 months of your tenure. Keep things simple so that the ministry will be able to exist without direct pastoral leadership.
- Things change: Understand that the minute you announce that you are leaving, your ability to speak into the direction of the church and your ministry changes. This is not a reflection on your leadership or an attempt to make you look bad. This is a necessary part of the transition process. Church leadership may choose to include you in transition planning or they may not. They may be grateful for the work that you did, or they may not. Either way, the best gift you can give those who you care for is the humility to submit to those in authority and slide out graciously.
Finally, there are a ton of emotions wrapped up in a season of transition. This can cause people on all sides of the transition to act weird. We can be tempted to do all manner of things, but I would encourage you to leave gracefully, graciously, and in a Godly manner. Resist the temptation to "tell it how it is" or to read too much into someone's comment about your tenure. If you need to have a hard conversation on your way out, do it in an exit interview, not on social media. The Church world is smaller than we think and the way that we leave a church is going to directly impact the way we begin at our next church.
One of my favorite quotes about pastoral ministry comes from Count Zinzendorf. He told us "preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten." This may make us cringe at first, but I think there is a great deal of truth here. As we leave our churches, who do we truly want them to remember? Us, or the Jesus that we told them about?
As always, we are here for you, and we're praying for churches and teams all over the United States!
P.S. Missed the How to Know When it's Time to Go webinar? No worries. You can watch the replay here.