By Blair Lundborg, assistant to the bishop TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod
One of the questions we often field in the Synod Office is how and when to announce an upcoming resignation or retirement. Perhaps you are not surprised to hear the simple answer “It depends.” There is not a one-size-fits-all answer. In fact, there are more questions than answers when it comes to announcing your departure. For example: How long have you served? Is there conflict or unrest in the congregation? Will the position you leave be full time for your successor? Have you accepted another call or are you at the point of considering making yourself available for call? Are you or considering a vocational change or going On Leave From Call?
Here’s the unvarnished truth. Our resignation or retirement will not be nearly as difficult for the congregation as they (or we) might think. It’s a humbling reality, but it’s true. Pastors and deacons change calls with regularity. At any given time, there are usually about 10-15% of the congregations in the Gulf Coast Synod in the call process.
The moment we announce a resignation our effectiveness in ministry begins to diminish. Giving the congregation more than 60 days simply prolongs the inevitable. Giving less than a 30 day notice will likely raise the anxiety. The exception to that is a conflicted setting where a severance package has been negotiated.
As I think back on each of my pastoral transitions, I can identify several responses. There was a sense of loss and sadness expressed by some, but certainly not all. Others had accepted it and were ready to move on. This was usually the largest group. A handful of people were ready to celebrate! None of us are irreplaceable. It’s humbling, but true.
There are guidelines we must follow according to the congregation’s constitution. The specific language from the required constitutional provision is found in C9.05.2. A rostered leaders “resignation shall become effective, unless otherwise agreed, no later than 30 days after the date on which it was submitted.” Generally speaking, thirty days is standard, sixty is bearable, more than that is usually too long.
Congregations are actually quite resilient. They will get over us, probably sooner than we care to admit. If we think they need a year to prepare for our departure that probably says more about our needs than theirs. People will grow weary of saying good-bye, especially if it goes on for several months. Good-bye fatigue is real. Long good-byes also delay the transition process. People need to move on just as we feel the need to change calls.
Informing the leadership is different. They need more time. Not much, but more. Maybe a couple of weeks? The council president needs to know about our resignation or retirement before the full council or congregation. Connect the council president with the bishop’s office as soon as you let them know of your intentions. Council presidents need to make plans with the bishop’s office for an exit interview, interim coverage, and other transition matters. The synod staff will work with the leaders so when your departure is officially announced the council can assure people that they are already working on the transition.
On occasion, the bishop’s office has been asked to help multi-staff congregations with a succession plan. This usually precedes a retirement where a new staff person is called for a period of overlap service with the outgoing rostered person. Upon the retirement of the outgoing leader the associate moves into the lead seat. As attractive as a succession plan seems, it is much more complicated than it sounds. It is also beyond the scope of this short article. Suffice it to say, there are very few successful examples of the succession model.
So, what is a best practice when it comes to announcing a resignation or retirement? A call to the bishop’s office is a great place to start. Bishop Mike and the synod staff are prepared to help you think through the process. And yes, it does depend on the particular circumstances leading up to your decision to leave. Let us help you sort that out so you can end well and your congregation can begin strong with their next pastor or deacon.