Ending an Appointment Well

Lately, the idea of “ending well” has been on my mind.

I am in the stages of ending one pastoral appointment and transitioning into another. I want to end my time here well and, thus, get started on the right foot at my next church.

But, what does it mean to “end well?” It is not something I have a lot of experience in. To be honest, when I was a reporter I was not the best at leaving. My main concern was myself and my own advancement, so I wasn’t really worried about how I finished a job. I was more interested in what was next.

That is not the case now. Part of it is maturity, but another part is the realization that ministry does not exist within a single pastorate. Pastors pick up the torch left from previous pastors and carry forward the mission of serving Christ in that specific context. At the same time, pastors leave a torch for the next pastor so that person can faithfully serve the kingdom.

So, what does this look like? I think it will look different for every pastor and church, but in conversations I’ve had with others these are some of the things I have taken for myself.

Continue Until The Last Day: One of the key things to end well is to keep serving until the last moment. Many pastors in transition have the tendency, I believe, of ignoring their current church and completely focus on their next one. It is understandable, but easily avoidable. While you want to make preparations and plans for what is to come, a pastor cannot ignore the people they are called to serve in the moment. They deserve our complete dedication until we depart.

Say Goodbye to Everyone in Meaningful Ways: Every person in our pastoral care deserves to hear us say goodbye and to allow them to say goodbye to us. These can be private conversations or public expressions. To say goodbye allows for relationships to end in a healthy way, so that new relationships can be created with the next pastor.

Leave Good Information for the Next Pastor: One of the best ways to end well is to leave great information for the new pastor about the church. The information should include meetings, things they need to know about the community, expectations, and other vital information. Having this information will help a new pastor get acquainted to the new church and the community. This should be a private correspondence left for or given to the new pastor.

Make Sure You Actually Leave: One of the most important parts of “ending well” takes place after we have left a church. It is up to the outgoing pastor to make sure they do not come back to their former church for a period of time. We do not give the next pastor an opportunity to effectively lead if we are in constant community with our former church or make appearances within a community. There must be a distance between ourselves and our former church, so that ministry can fully develop at both our new place at our former place.

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5 thoughts on “Ending an Appointment Well

  1. Shannon,

    You cover this very well and there’s a lot of wisdom here. What we’re really talking about is the idea of “transitioning”. For me, the image that commuicates that idea is one of two windows: the appointment we are currently serving is a window that is closing. The appointment we are going to is a window that is opening. If we do not leave well, we leave the window behind us open – in the sense that we carry baggage and unresolved issues. Likewise, failure to prepare for the next appointment can lead us to crash into a window we have not yet opened.

    We leave well by giving ourselves permission to grieve. That’s true whether the current appointment was a wonderful experience of many years or a short-term nightmare. In fact, it may even be MORE true of difficult appointments that we need time to process, grieve and heal as we prepare to enter a new appointment. Leaving a great appointment means separating from wonderful people and experiences. Leaving a difficult appointment can represent the death of a dream. Either is painful.

    Clergy are often taught that, in difficult circumstances, when everyone else is coming unhinged we’re supposed to hold it together. Sometimes we take that to an unhealthy place and refuse to connect with our emotions. We need time and space to do that.

    Which leads me to ask you to give some thought to your “stay until the end” suggestion. For yourself, not for me, clarify what you mean by that. Are you suggesting that basically we pay no mind to our upcoming appointment? If that’s the case, I think we may be doing ourselves a disservice. If, on the other hand, you mean not completely abandoning our current folks even as we prepare to meet our new parishioners, I agree.

    I think asking ourselves, “In retrospect what could I improve upon as a pastor as I go forward?” is healthy. Taking some time to learn about your new community, getting a directory and learning to put names of faces of key leaders together is a sign of respect and communicates the idea that we want to be there with them.

    The “window” of our current appointment has not yet closed, but it is definitley closing. Part of the “detachement” process is preparing mentally and emotionally for the new reality. While we’re saying our “good-byes” we need to also prepare for “hellos”.

    When elected officials prepare to depart office (governor, president, etc.) they utilize transition teams. Folks who help the “old” person to leave well even as they are preparing the “new” person to arrive well. A few folks from the PPR who can coordinate receptions (coming and going), a Trustee or two to help with any parsonage issues, the lay leader and lay delegate to conference meeting together a few times to get things squared away will help everyone.

    This is way more than you wanted, but it’s my two cents worth. If I can help in any way please give me a shout out. I don’t think I know where you’re going but I’m confident you’ll do well.

    Grace and peace,

    Willard

  2. Willard,

    Thanks for the comment! I certainly appreciate it! I am going to Covington Trinity. We are looking forward to it. We’ve met with the PPR there, already, and have had some wonderful conversations with my new PPR chair since. They have really done a great job in welcoming us and helping me get prepared for this new step.

    As for “ending well,” the image of the presidential transition is what I am thinking about the most. You are here until the last minute serving, but recognizing, as well, that you are making preparations for the next church and getting yourself mentally, physically, and spiritually ready for it. (There are probably some lessons to take from a good presidential that we can take into ministry, as well.)

    If you have any other great advice, feel free to pass them along. This is all new to me.

    Shannon

  3. This speaks well to me, too. I have just entered the last half of my final semester here in Korea. It’s hard to begin saying goodbye when you’ve lived with a family and taught with a school for a whole year. This is a well-timed post.

  4. Oh, definitely! Not only in moving from Korea, but moving away from Mackville when I get back to the States. Saying goodbye is never easy.

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