By Ben Mandrell
Imagine somebody buys the house you’ve been living in. Later, you look on Zillow and see they’ve changed the kitchen you lovingly designed or removed the landscaping that received a great deal of your sweat equity. You take it personally because the house is painted a different color. You loved that house. You made it your own, an outward expression of you and your family.
It’s difficult to leave a place you love. It’s like letting a child go—a child you’ve raised. Lynley and I left neither of our churches on bad terms. But like with houses, churches are something we take personally. It was our life’s work. And when you leave a church, it can be humbling, because the people seem to move on without us—and they should."When you leave a church, it can be humbling, because the people seem to move on without us—and they should." @benmandrell Click To Tweet
Leaving is hard, but it can be done well. On the “The Glass House” podcast, Lynley and I recently talked with two admired people on the topic: Adam Mason, a counselor who specializes in pastoral health, and Phil Jett, my predecessor from my first pastorate.
Throughout these conversations some traits of pastors who don’t leave well came to light.
1. You see yourself as an owner rather than a steward.
An indicator of a pastor is not doing well in leaving is that they accept too much ownership of the church. According to a recent Lifeway Research study on pastor attrition, a commonly held belief among pastors who didn’t leave a church well is that the church couldn’t have gotten where it is without their help, their leadership. When they take this posture of owning the ministry versus leading it, they’re set up for grief.According to @LifewayResearch, a commonly held belief among pastors who didn’t leave a church well is that the church couldn’t have gotten where it is without their leadership. This posture of ownership versus stewardship sets them up… Click To Tweet
Lynley and I have said the Lord had to “take away” our last church—as if we ever owned it. Your mind plays tricks on you when you leave a church. You want things to go the way you envisioned, and that’s not fair to the new pastor. You think you’re going to be above the petty things, but nothing prepares you for leaving until you actually go through it."You think you’re going to be above the petty things, but nothing prepares you for leaving until you actually go through it." — @benmandrell Click To Tweet
Even if you’re not in a season of transition right now, remember that the church you lead has been placed in your hands to steward, not own. This mindset will serve you well not only as you leave in the future, but it will also help you keep the right perspective as you lead now.
2. You don’t engage with past church members in a healthy way.
There is a silence period that the pastor and spouse must go through, even when you miss the people from the last church. It’s common for a church to reach out to a beloved leader and complain about the new pastor making changes they don’t approve of.
It may be a boost to your ego, but eventually this will create an unhealthy environment: For your home, the last church you served, and for the new pastor and their family. When you lead a church, it’s inevitable to make lifelong connections (if you don’t establish those kinds of relationships, that’s a problem, too!). But when you entertain complaints about the new leadership, you’re undermining who God has called to shepherd these people. And you’re poisoning your own heart."When you entertain complaints about the new leadership, you’re undermining who God has called to shepherd these people. And you're poisoning your own heart." — @benmandrell Click To Tweet
3. You romanticize the past—or the future.
Adam Mason said, “When the present becomes difficult, we romanticize the past or the future.” This is so true.
Case in point: When our children were toddlers, we used to romanticize the future. We couldn’t wait for them to get out of diapers and become less needy and more independent. But now that they’re all teenagers, it’s still hard—just a different kind of hard. Their schedules keep us “Ubering” them all over the greater Nashville area. It’s busy. It’s still tough for Lynley and me to have uninterrupted conversation.
And in 10 years, we’ll forget about this hectic season. We won’t remember the crazy schedules. Instead, we’ll longingly look at photos of them as teenagers and wistfully say something like, “It was so nice when we were all still living under one roof.”
It’s tempting to look at the past with rose-colored glasses and to look at the future with imagined idealism. But the present is what we have, with all of its pain and all of its pleasure. It’s hard to live in the present when your mind keeps taking you back to the past or darting ahead to the future.
If you’re at a new church and the honeymoon is over (because it does end), you miss your old relationships, and long for the victories of yesterday, there’s a tendency to think you’re in the wrong place because things were so much better back then. But that’s not exactly how it is."If you miss your old relationships and long for the victories of yesterday, there’s a tendency to think you’re in the wrong place because 'things were so much better back then.' But that’s not exactly how it is." — @benmandrell Click To Tweet
Staying content in all circumstances, as Paul wrote (Philippians 4:11) and focusing on what you have today really is the best way forward if you are struggling with a transition. And as our Adam Mason said: If you find your neighbor’s grass greener on the other side of the fence, it’s time to water your own lawn.