All interim pastors set out to end well. We know going into a new church that our tenure is short. So it behooves the wise interim leader to follow a simple rule of disengagement: begin to plan for the end from the beginning. For me, this is primarily an exercise in archiving.
Here are three things I do to help me end well:
- First, I keep a file folder in the back of my desk drawer labeled “Leaving”. Throughout my tenure I toss in pictures, bulletins, notes, and other memorabilia that will help me capture the essence of this place when it’s time to leave. In my current folder I have a note from a confirmation student, a caricature drawing of me preaching, two memorial service folders, three notes which were slipped under the door, and about a dozen pages torn from church newsletters, bulletins, session dockets, and newspapers. I also keep a ‘leaving’ folder on my phone with a stash digital images, photos and the like.
- Second, I try to follow a weekly practice of jotting down on a colorful piece of paper one highlight from each week. These are folded up and tossed into a glass vase in an obscure corner of the office. I’ll admit to being more than a month behind in this practice, but I do intend to catch up!
- Third, I keep a record of accomplishments made with each staff leader I supervise and each group I lead. Here I archive a truthful account of the highs, lows, and most importantly, the learnings made in our tenure together.
When the time of my departure nears, the desk drawer, the digital folder, the vase, and the records stand ready to help me tell the truth about our ministry and honor what God has been doing in our midst.
When it’s time for my final staff meeting, I will bring the vase and invite each leader to draw out a few slips of paper. Reading these aloud invites us to share highlights of our time together. I may also bring some blank slips of paper and invite staff to add their own highlights. Hearing from them broadens my perspective on what has mattered most in this place. Prior to my exit interview I will summarize these findings.
When it’s time to write my final sermon, I will use the desk and digital folder archives to help shape a farewell message. And when my keys are turned in and the office empty of all but a letter to the new pastor, I will have also left a letter to each of my colleagues on their desks, along with a small (or silly) memento of our work together. My goal in doing so is to convey that in planning to end well I began to take note of them from the start.
Finally, I will write an exit document for the presbytery leaders outlining the narrative of my tenure with said church. My goal in doing this is to demonstrate that I planned to end well from the start and to note the essential roles they played along the way.
In what ways do you plan to end well?