I’m shopping for 2 items: an Apple watch and a tombstone. One seems to be more exciting than the other. However, I want to buy both. With the watch, I look forward to more enjoyable runs, sending and receiving messages, checking on news and weather, and looking at emails. With the tombstone, I’m reminded I won’t be alive another 71 years. I need to take care of details now.
Gail and I planned our funerals several years ago. We shopped for caskets, listed songs and pallbearers, and made other suggestions. Now we want to buy a tombstone and have it set.
Why? I think it’ll be helpful to us and our family to discuss the next phase of life — death. At our monthly business meetings of www.barbers-usa.com , I’ve started asking my son, Jerrie Wayne, “What do I need to do to make it easier for you to operate when I’m gone?”. Last month, we talked about user IDs and passwords to important websites.
Just as it’s uncomfortable for some to discuss their funeral and where they’ll be buried, I’ve observed preachers and elders rarely discuss how they’re going to leave their roles.
My, friend, Jeff Smith, replied to my last blog:
Jerry, I’ve learned from you and others that preparing to leave is as important as choosing who comes. In my case, I am 6 years from retiring from my current status, and will probably move closer to one of the boys. I have spoken this to my “inner circle”. The questions and or fears I have are these, 1) Will I have the courage to leave a town I’ve been in for over 26 years? 2) Who will replace me? [ In my opinion, he cannot be far “left” or “right” he must be in the middle.] 3) What will I do with the sense of abandonment I already feel just thinking about leaving. [I still have a little “savior” complex in me] Perhaps from your experience you could write a future article that goes into some of these things. I confess, “leaving” is a tender topic for me.
Jeff’s doing things I think are important about preparing to leave:
- He’s discussed it with his “inner circle.” He started early.
- He’s aware of his resistance to talking about a painful subject. Confession frees me to do what I resist. I’m releasing what I’ve been hiding.
- He’s labeled his fears and questions. Now he can work on each, decide what’s in his control, what isn’t, work on what he should, and let the rest die — shop for a tombstone, have a funeral.
- He’s confessed his “little savior complex.” I’ve heard more than one preacher state, “If I were to leave, this church would fall apart.” I can identify with all these after making a transition from “full-time preaching” to interim ministry in the Spring of 2007.[tweetthis]I’ve heard more than one preacher state, “If I were to leave, this church would fall apart.”[/tweetthis]
My shepherds at Berry’s Chapel asked for more definition about 4 years before I left. Before I came, I discussed with the previous elders my desire to do interim ministry. When new elders were appointed in 1995, I informed them of my intention to leave Berry’s Chapel to work as an interim minister at some point. Their statement was I could stay as long as I liked, but when I had an idea of the date, they’d like to know. They said, “Your contract calls for 90 days notice. We want longer to make a smooth transition.”
My first response to the approach was hurt. Even though I initiated the subject 10 years earlier, I thought I’d bring it up when I got ready.
- How will they make it without me and why would they want to?
- What if nobody wants me to work with them as an interim minister?
- Will finances work out?
Within a short time, Gail and I discussed our departure and came back with the suggestion of April 2007. We announced it to the congregation in June 2004. Our departure was smooth and encouraging. I appreciate the elders and the congregation for making our time enjoyable and our leaving as painless as death can be. I’d rather shop for an Apple watch than a tombstone. The timing was great. We’ve enjoyed 9 years of interim ministry and hope for more.
- Shepherds and preachers, discuss this process at the beginning of the relationship — before the new preacher delivers his first sermon. It’s easier to talk about before marriage and honeymoon than after the first or fortieth “family fuss.”
- Discuss how long the elders and preacher want the next preacher to stay and how you’d like to end this relationship. This is especially helpful when the church has a rule that they change preachers every 5 years but don’t share the family rule until 4 years and 9 months after he starts. Will you give each other adequate notice? Will the preacher leave peacefully, even if he’s disappointed and doesn’t agree with the elders’ decision? Will the elders be as wise when they decide it’s time for the preacher to leave as they are at the invitation to begin the work? Will you give each other time to work through the grief of the congregation, the preacher, and his family on the preacher’s departure?
- Discuss in detail how you plan to prepare financially for the time when the preacher is unable or chooses not to be a full-time preacher. Incentives of matching retirement funds would be one way to do this. Discuss and encourage this often.
- Return to this discussion at least once a year and update expectations. There is less stress and emotion when the casket is selected months or years before death than the day after death.[tweetthis]There is less stress and emotion when the casket is selected months or years before death than the day after death.[/tweetthis]
- Plan for the preacher to take a sabbatical 7 years before his transition. I plan to write more about sabbaticals for preachers, elders, and others in a later post. This gives the preacher an opportunity to experiment with retirement and the congregation an opportunity to experience functioning without the regular preacher.
- Have a discussion of these issues every time the eldership changes: when one or more elders leave the eldership or when one or more are added. There’s an assumption things will continue as before, especially if you have a contract. Assuming isn’t good communication. You have a different eldership. They didn’t develop and sign the contract.
Jesus is an example of how to prepare for leaving: “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Matthew 16:21, NKJV). When He brought up the subject and repeated it several times, they were afraid, disputed about who would be the greatest in the kingdom, and declined to discuss it further. But He continued to repeat the reality.
Shopping for a tombstone doesn’t evoke the most enjoyable feelings. But it’s better than leaving for others what I need to be doing about getting ready to die.
What are you doing to make a good transition?
Please comment below: