5 Ways to Leave a Church Well

After seven years of service at my church, I was granted a sabbatical leave. For those eight weeks, I scheduled activities, learning opportunities, rested, concentrated spiritual connection time, journaling, Christian counseling, and one writing project.

The writing project was my theological, philosophical, and methodological construct for how a minister could leave a church in a God-honoring way. Primarily, this was for me. I wanted a well thought-out accountability system for whenever it was my time to leave. I wanted to leave well—my time to leave came within three years.

After seeing first-hand and hearing horror stories of ministers leaving in ways that damaged the church they left behind (whether voluntary or forced), I determined I wouldn’t do that.

Culling resources from other leaders (not a lot had been written on the subject), searching Scripture, and simply thinking through things that make sense to do when you love the local church, led me to these points:

• Stop citing God for your pettiness.

• Lose your delusions of grandeur.

• Be willing to take the road less traveled—the high road.

• Finish well, including your work and appointments.

• Write an Apostle Paul-style resignation letter.

You can read the five pages of “Leaving Well” where I unpack each of these points. Below is the closing thought to my full article that will give you an idea of my thesis and hope:

We can choose to leave well. Our impact at our “former” churches shouldn’t be measured by the chaos we leave behind. There are no spiritual medals awarded for causing the biggest wake at our former places of service. We have to determine that our leaving will cause the least amount of disruption. Better yet, what if our leaving can glorify God?

For the whole article, click on Leaving Well

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How Journaling Heartache Can Lead to Effective Pastoral Care

The morning of our fourth child’s birth, I was three weeks into a new city, new church, and new staff position. Before my wife went back for a C-section, three ministers from our new church came to pray with us.

They said they would stay. I remember saying, “It’s going to be fine. You all go home, and I’ll update you when she’s out.” They prayed and left.

The baby was born successfully. I left the room with our little girl, Blake, and went with the nurses for the weighing and bath in another room. While videoing the weight (as all proud dads do), I began to see changes in her.

The nurses began working frenetically. They asked me to leave the room. A lot more transpired, but bottom line: she had heart failure.

Within 30 minutes, she was en route to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. I left my wife in her hospital room and headed to where my new baby would be.

Upon entering the NICU, two doctors sat me down in a quiet room. I grabbed my notepad to take notes so I could relay the details to my wife over the phone. The doctor looked me in the eye and said, “Mr. Dodridge, it’s unlikely your child will survive.”

I put down my pen and notepad.

She spent the next 16 days on life support. Throughout that time, I wrote in my journal. I wrote down all the raw emotions, including anger and disappointment. I wrote my selfish desires, and I wrote pleading prayers to God.

All wired up day 2

Blake Jules, three days after birth

Through the power of God, His use of crazy awesome medical staff, and a life support called an ECMO, Blake is alive and has recently turned one year old.

But even in the 12 months since, I’ve reread my journal to gain perspective and learn from some broken moments. The journal entries have been a gift.

Since Blake’s ordeal, I’ve already been able to minister to families in our church who had infants on ECMO at the very same hospital. I don’t transpose my journaled feelings on them, but it gives me perspective while ministering. My journal entries give me vivid memories that allow empathy for others.

Other experiences I’ve written in my journal have served me in ministry as well—my hurt when we dealt with infertility, or my anxiety when awaiting news on whether the cancer was in my lymph nodes.

All these experiences have translated to a written record I can access, both to learn from my past and help others in my role as minister in times of crisis.

Journaling can be an ally in ministry and pastoral care.

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How to keep your goals in front of you

Goals are great. Often though, they are only for the idealist. If you want to make them viable consistently, then you have to keep them in front of you.

Knowing that well-intentioned goals leak over time in the crucible of leadership, I developed a weekly discipline to keep them in front of me. Our church has an online database for keeping up with our goals that I simplified for my personal and weekly use. By pasting all the content into an Excel sheet, I can see my annual work and self-development goals in one quick glance. Five columns total: one for each goal and a column for each quarter’s progress.

Capture2

I chose the most standardized day of my week to view my goals and mark progress. For me, it’s Sunday mornings at 8AM. It’s a time when I am least likely to be interrupted, or to have a meeting scheduled.  When an Outlook reminder goes off on my devices, I know to review the next two weeks on my calendar, review my annual goals and record my progress.

The goal portion takes me 5-7 minutes to update. Typically, only 1/3 of my goals require a progress update. These few minutes once a week ensure I’ aware of the progress I’ve made in completing my predetermined goals and it draws attention to where I need to focus to complete my goals.

If I chose my priorities each week or allowed them to be assigned to me by the “tyranny of the urgent”, I’d never get anything substantial or strategic done. I know that what I have listed as goals will help me be most effective for my church.

I review my calendar for the next two weeks because I often realize while reviewing my goals that I have some important work still to be done. I take this opportunity to create space on my calendar for that specific work, whether it is for studying, calling meetings or simply executing.

My goals leak still, but they can’t get too leaky in a week’s time.

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