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A Tale Of Two Goodbyes

It was the best of goodbyes. It was the worst of goodbyes.


If you've been in ministry (or even the workforce) for any length of time, you've likely had to say numerous "goodbyes." Whether it's you who's leaving or a co-worker, transition is a normal part of church work. In fact, according to various surveys, the average tenure for a church worker is about 5 years at any given church. (Less if you're employed in children’s ministry.) In my 25 years of children's ministry, I myself have made 2 big transitions. From one church to another, then from that church to start GO! Curriculum. But the difference between the two transitions is striking.

Goodbye #1

For the first half of my children’s ministry career, I volunteered and worked for Promiseland at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. In short, it was an incredible experience and if not for my growing family, I might have stayed much longer. But when our youngest was born, we felt the pull to return home to St. Louis where my extended family lives.


When the decision was made, I gave the church 3 months’ notice so my replacement could be found and I could spend time training them. In short, they were sad to see me go, but extremely supportive. And the day before my departure, Promiseland threw me a party so we could all share memories, say our goodbyes, and send me off well.


I felt so loved.

Goodbye #2

For the next 6 years, I worked at a large (albeit, not “Willow” large) church in St. Louis. It was a (mostly) positive experience, but after 6 years, I knew it was time to go. Organizational restructuring had left me feeling sidelined and God was clearly calling me to start GO! Curriculum. Sadly, the transition out was in stark contrast to my Promiseland departure.


Although the leaders conveyed a sense of profound confidence, they were, I believe, deeply insecure. And that insecurity bled through the entire church culture. To leave was treated like an insult.


Shortly before I left, 2 of my co-worker friends had turned in their resignations. Both, like me, had previously had great relationships with the church. Both, like me, were feeling led to other incredible opportunities. Both gave 1-month notices. Both were told to pack their things and go home immediately. Both felt kicked to the curb.


So when my turn was approaching, I was extremely tight-lipped about my intentions. I knew that if they knew I had one foot out, they would have instantly pushed the other foot out too. But I had a family to support and I couldn’t afford that until the time was right.


When I finally turned in my resignation, I gave them 2 weeks’ notice. To my surprise, they allowed me to stay until the end, but it was a sad transition. There was no formal announcement that I was leaving, not even to my team whom I had loved and served for 6 years. Word quickly traveled, but nobody said anything. There was no party. Almost nobody acknowledge that I was leaving. There were no memories shared, no goodbyes. And on the last day, I quietly packed my things and left.


I felt so discarded.

Why a good “goodbye” is so important

Goodbyes are hard, but it’s so important that we get them right, even if the nature of the departure is complicated. What many churches (and people in general) don’t understand is that a good “goodbye” isn’t just for the person leaving, it’s for the people who are staying.


When you send people well, you’re gifting your team with closure and giving them the opportunity to process the emotions that come with loss and change. More than that, you’re communicating value to the remaining team members. If you’re a leader, your team is watching how you react to people who leave. And if you send them poorly, you’re communicating to your team “I value you only for as long as you’re useful to me.”


That’s a morale killer!

A bonus “goodbye” story

Partway through my time at Promiseland, our beloved leader and director disappeared. I mean that quite literally. One day she was in the office like any other day. The next day, her office had been cleaned out of everything but her badge. She had packed and left overnight without notice to anyone. For reasons I still don’t understand, she ghosted us!


The response by our “next-in-command” was a master class in organizational leadership. He threw her a goodbye party. To no one's surprise, she didn’t show up for it, but the party went on without her. The remaining team shared fond memories, shed tears, then we signed our names on the back of a framed art piece and mailed it to her. Our new leader understood that a good "goodbye" was as much for us as it was for her. As one of the remaining team members, it didn’t lessen the shock, but it gave me a chance to process my grief and it communicated to me that I was valued regardless of my employment status.


If and when you leave your current church, you can’t control how leadership reacts. But when you are the leader, and a staff member or key volunteer transitions out of your ministry, you get to set the table for a good “goodbye.” The health of your team depends on it! So for the good of God’s Kingdom and the sake of our ministries, let’s strive to get it right!


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