5 Ways to Help Leaders Leave Well

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/bebeting

Ministry can be a lot like American Idol: at any given time you know somebody is going to leave. Some leaders leave for not so great reasons. Many leaders leave for great reasons; like being called somewhere else, retiring after many years of service, or taking another position within your church.

So how can you help someone who’s leaving leave well? Here are 5 tips:

1. Tell everyone soon, but not too soon
As soon as people know someone on your team is leaving they become a lame duck. Regardless how you feel about this, there’s not much you can do about it. People need time to process transitions on your team. But too much time makes a painful process excruciating. On average it’s a good idea to give everyone a 2-4 weeks head’s up. Less doesn’t give people time to process. Too much more makes that person’s remaining service less effective and will only lead to frustration among your church, the leader, and you.

2. Honor their service
When a great staffer leaves its bitter-sweet. It’s sweet because something great is usually happening in their life. It’s bitter because they won’t be doing it on your team. In this case it’s very easy to reminisce on the good times, throw a party, have people share memories, and give gifts that both appreciate what they’ve done and can even prepare them for what they’re getting ready to do.

Sometimes this is not always the case. Sometimes a leader needs to leave because of a moral failure, an unwillingness to serve with the right attitude, or a consistent failure to meet realistic expectations after repeated efforts to help them succeed. When this happens you probably won’t throw a party (at least one you invite other people to) but you should still address WHY they are leaving, QUICKLY, while thanking them for the good they did accomplish, and committing to avoid gossiping and talking negatively about them.

3. Get them to write down what they do
This is the step most churches miss. While everyone has a job description of WHAT they do very few people make time to write down HOW they do their job. Don’t skip this part of the transition process. Get them to write down what they do and how they do it.

  • GOOD: Have them show you how they do what they do.
  • BETTER: Have them write down how they do what they do.
  • BEST: Have them write down AND show you how they do what they do.

4. Have an exit interview
Set time near the end or a little bit after a staffer’s exit from your team to get their feedback about working with you. Ask them what they feel went right about their time on your team, what went wrong, and what was missing. You may not like or agree with everything you hear but there’s always at least one nugget of truth that’s worth putting into practice. Plus, it shows you value their insight and are open to improvement, which is always a good thing.

5. Begin the hiring process
After you’ve told everyone what’s going on, celebrated their ministry, gotten down how they do what they do, and processed their exit interview it’s time to begin the search for someone to fill their spot. Spend time thinking and praying about who you want and what you’re ministry needs are. Outline the process you will use to hire your next team member. I talk more about how to do this here.

It’s always tough when someone leaves. Whether you wanted them to leave or not the change will create a season of tension for your team. How you manage the tension will determine if your team will function well once they have left. These steps will help you navigate the tension and set your team up for success.

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