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Saying “Good-bye”


Seminary and the candidacy process teach (at least in some part) how to discern whether a particular congregation would be a good fit; in other words, they help prepare you to know when it is time to say, “Hello!”  They do not, however, teach you to discern when it is time to leave.

Both a congregation and her pastor can inflict and receive terrible wounds on one another; how does one determine when it is time to bind those wounds and move forward together, even though it may be painful or that it is time to bind wounds and move apart for the sake of the other?  I am still not terribly clear on the answer to those questions.  Perhaps you, dear reader, can help.

My story is not that of terrible wounding – which is not to say that wounds were not received or inflicted, but merely that they were not nearly what has been experienced in other settings by both pastors and congregations.  My story is actually one of hope.  I did not leave in the midst of conflict.  One of my former congregations had gone through two difficult leave-takings by my predecessors, so when I announced that God had led me to a new call, some folks were unsure of how to react.  Some were angry; after all, things were going well, so why is he leaving?   Others were sad, though happy for us.  Still others, I am sure, were content to happy with my departure.  After all – we’re only human!  A rather insightful council member noted that the congregation didn’t know how to react because it had been so long since a pastor had left during a time of health within the life of the congregation.

I suspect it was easier for the congregation to accept that I was truly called by God to serve elsewhere, as opposed to moving on to bigger and/or better things, because I moved so away from family and friends (13.5 hour drive to my in-laws, 15 hour drive to my parents).  If I had taken a new call to serve a congregation just an hour or two away, it might not have gone over as well.  Most everyone was very supportive of us, and even those who were angry shared that they hoped things work out well.

We ended on a not-too-hot day of worship, with one worship service for the two congregations.  Immediately after worship we had a hot dog bar and ice cream and enjoyed fellowship in the shade of some trees.  The service itself was amazing and just the right touch.

So how do you know when it is time for you/the pastor to go?  There are, unfortunately, all kinds of horror stories of pastors staying too long.  There are also all of the untold stories of times when pastor and congregation stuck through tough times and came out the other side stronger than ever, more enriched in their faith and bold in their witness.  I know that “prayer” will be your immediate answer, and it is true one.  Assuming you are engaging actively in prayer – including listening as a part of prayer – how do you know when it is time to say, “Good-bye”?  What else is worth sharing about the leave-taking process?


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