Commentary: Preparing to Leave

Pastor, First Pigeon Forge UMC

Next month following the 2002 Annual Conference session, approximately 100 Holston ministers will be moving to new charges. Here is one pastor's message to the congregation he's leaving behind.

Paul sent a message from Miletus to the elders of the church of Ephesus asking them to meet with him. When he arrived he told them he would be going to Jerusalem where he would be persecuted and imprisoned. He reminded them of his preaching, teaching, and visitation. He warned them that after he left, "savage wolves" would come to destroy the church. Some of these wolves would be from within the flock and would distort the truth in an attempt to get people to follow them.

He reminded them of his message of God's grace and his example to support the needy. When he finished addressing them he knelt with them and prayed. They embraced and wept, and Paul departed. The people grieved particularly because Paul told them they would never see him again (Acts 20:17-38).

Most people don't like the long period between the announcement of a pastor's move and the actual move. However, I believe this time is important and should not be wasted. Here are suggestions which come from Paul's experience, others, and my own.

Express your feelings. Several years ago I told a church member I was leaving as her pastor. From that moment on, though we had been close, that person avoided me and we had no chance to say goodbye. I didn't like that. I want you to tell me if you are glad, sad, or mad that I'm leaving. I want us to have a chance to talk, share, pray, laugh, or cry. Don't avoid the issue because it's uncomfortable, and don't assume I don't have time. I do!

Come to all committee meetings. It is a good time to get business in order, to clarify where we are, to assemble resources, and prepare for the transition between pastors.

Meet with the new pastor. I have talked to your future pastor and told him I will do everything I can to help him have the best possible start. Any time you want to meet with him is fine with me; it does not have to be done in secret. I respect your need to plan ahead – with or without me.

Get all facilities in order. The trustees are fixing, cleaning, and painting the parsonage. This is the time to get anything else that has been neglected in good working order. Do it now. Don't wait! It will be a relief to the new pastor not to have to worry about these things.

Don't be a wolf and don't support one. Paul knew that there would be people who would sow seeds of discord and distort the truth. That's just the way it is. Sometimes the distortions are directed at a church member, a ministry or the pastor. Don't do it -- and be strong enough to stand against it when it happens. It may be 10 months or 10 years before it comes, but it will come. Root it out when it does.

Come to worship. Like Paul I have some things I want to say before I go, words of hope and encouragement, for all of my remaining Sundays. I look forward to this special time with you.

Friends forever. The people grieved for Paul because he told them they would never see him again. You will not be so lucky when it comes to me! Of course, I won't ever be back as your pastor, but I'll be your friend. You can call, write or visit. You will have a new pastor whom you will call upon in need. You will have me, if you want, as a Christian brother. We will remain connected forever in the Body of Christ and the Communion of Saints.

Let's use the next weeks wisely and fruitfully. Christ's church needs it, I need it, and your new pastor deserves it.

Reprinted with permission.

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