By Jenny Brady
How to help your community prepare for endings at the beginning
“To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under Heaven.”1 Whether you recognize those words from the Byrds hit song or King Solomon’s original statement in Ecclesiastes, you have likely heard them thrown around in times of change. The truth in these words can be hard for many of us to swallow. As humans, we are not always good at yielding to timing. We lean into the excitement and joy that comes with a new start, but we often have trouble embracing endings with the same sense of acceptance. Whether from past experiences or because I am getting older, as I enter this third year at my current institution, I cannot seem to get the question “what does it look like to end well” off my mind.
Growing up in both Honduras and Texas, I was witness to strong Christians who were competent leaders and visionaries for God’s work. They held their palms open to the Lord, understanding they were carrying out His work for His Kingdom, and He blessed their efforts abundantly. From running orphanages to building large churches to growing incredible schools, many of the visionaries I have learned from seem to suffer from the same temptation – not letting go when it is time to let go. Something happened as it became clear their time to step away from the ministry was imminent. Almost overnight, something would flip. Their hands would tightly clench the Kingdom assignment, and whether out of pride, fear, or lack of discernment, they did not leave well. The wonderful work God had established through them was now their personal kingdom. The legacy they had built through their obedience to God was tarnished by their refusal to let go or appoint a worthy successor.
We see this story play out all too often in the Body of Christ. Men and women who have helped build wonderful ministries refuse to give up their power when it is their time to move on. And the ministry and Church inevitably suffer. One individual’s “pride goes before [the] destruction”2 of previously great work, ministry, and legacy. So as believers, how do we end our work well? How do we ensure we don’t hurt the ministry and others’ perception of the Church as we insist on going down with a ship that never needed to sink? And how do those of us in positions of leadership help others do the same?
I’m not sure I’m the one to speak on this, as I didn’t exactly end well when given the opportunity. While God had given me ample warning (two years, to be precise) of my time in my previous position coming to an end, I didn’t expect it to come the way it did. I was supposed to be the one to call the shots, to decide how it ended, to wrap up my time in a beautiful exit strategy that was beneficial to everyone, especially me. But that is not what God had planned. Instead, the rug was pulled from under me, and I was left unsure of how to end well when none of it was in my control. I would like to say I rose to the occasion, but instead, I took the easy route and quietly slipped away – no goodbyes, no thanks to those who had spent 17 years working alongside me. I did not end my time with the school I had spent nearly two decades helping build well and I regret that. Especially as I look back at all that I learned during those years.
As I consider all the ways I have seen believers, myself included, fail to end gracefully, I wonder what exactly it looks like to end well so that we honor God and the work done, rather than destroy it as we lean into pride and a desire to “call the last shot”. I do not have all the answers, but through my own experience, both having to leave a long-term role and watching many others leave (or fail to leave), I have come to understand a few things that are necessary for leaving a role with dignity. In order to end well ourselves, or help others end well as their coworkers, leaders, and brothers and sisters in Christ, we must:
Recognize “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens”1
It is difficult to walk away from things, particularly successful things, that we feel so much ownership over. But as believers, we have to remind ourselves that none of our work for God is truly our own. God graciously allows us to play a part in His work. He calls us to our roles and He will call us from those same roles when He knows it is best for us to step away. When we feel God calling us away from our current position, we must be willing to follow His lead, understanding we are temporary stewards of His work, rather than owners of it. To end well we must exit as we entered in complete submission and obedience to God’s will.
God is sovereign, and when others are called away, we have to trust God’s wisdom in calling that person elsewhere. We cannot hold anger or resentment for that person leaving, nor make them feel guilty for their calling to step away from our organization. Rather we should celebrate and encourage their obedient response to His call.
Honor the work done
Even knowing it is time to move on, leaving can be incredibly difficult, especially if the person has been in the work for many years and it has become part of his or her identity. However, when we honor people’s roles in the work and let them know they and their roles are valued, appreciated, and will not be forgotten, we can help ease the transition out of that role and the necessary shifting of their identity. This is imperative for both those choosing to leave and those who are leaving against their desires.
Honoring someone’s role is an essential part of an institution’s responsibility to help its people end well. One of our more difficult jobs as leaders is helping people move on when God has made it clear it is time, even if they do not want to let go. This can be difficult, but when honoring their contributions is a priority, we can preserve the relationships while helping them understand that following God’s timing is in everyone’s best interest, especially their own.
Provide a smooth transition
It is often easiest for an institution or person, such as myself, to cut ties quickly, moving on abruptly when an employee leaves for whatever reason. But moving on so abruptly can be detrimental to both the employee leaving and the institution itself. Being mindful of the wisdom of Christ we will ‘disciple’ or train someone to continue the work if at all possible. Create the opportunity to provide healthy closure and aid members of our community in a peaceful transition to their next calling. This can include anything from making introductions to help open new doors for them to simply encourage them in their new endeavors. We also have the opportunity to help our institution transition well as the outgoing employee can aid in the creation of a succession plan so that the next person is left with valuable information and insight into the position. We can offer a smooth integration rather than forcing the newcomer to figure it all out as he or she goes along.
One thing I regret more than most is not taking the time to say a proper farewell to all I served alongside and the parent/student community I served. I distinctly remember a student contacting me afterward to say “you just left”. While unintentional, guarding my heart and embracing my pride hurt others more than I expected.
Minister through a time of change
As people are leaving a ministry or organization they helped build, or have worked with faithfully, the institution can demonstrate their appreciation for them by ministering and walking with them through that time of change. We need to remember those leaving are often leaving the network and community they have spent years building. Many people they would turn to for help and guidance are in the community they are now stepping out of, or provide guidance to members of the community they are leaving. Keep the lines of communication open. Remember God in His sovereignty has a new assignment for them so continue to walk with them as brothers and sisters in Christ, loving with action3 as we offer them support during the season of change.
Prioritize people’s humanity over the institution
Ultimately, we must recognize that while institutions are important, the value of humanity supersedes all. Our primary goals are to love God and love people. We must prioritize relationships as we also try to do what is best for the institution. Those two things are not mutually exclusive but interdependent. People may leave to pursue another opportunity or possibly be removed when it is in the best interest of the institution and the work. Regardless of the circumstances, respond in a way that maintains the relationship, values their humanity and considers their impact in the community. As someone leaves, whether by their choice or leadership’s choice, we must give them and those they worked with the space to say goodbye and end the relationship well. People have to matter more than the institution in the way we handle employee transitions.
Relationships are difficult, especially in an institution like a school made up of so many different personalities. But we are called to love one another4, and part of that is guarding relationships when it is time for a tough transition. We must commit to ending well when our own time comes and commit to helping others end well when they are called to leave. When done correctly, transitions out of ministry positions can help point others towards the love of Christ, as well as benefit our institutions and employees. It is my prayer that our community learns to help our people end well and that I myself end well when God makes it clear it is time to step away from His work.
- Ecclesiastes 3:1
- 1 Proverbs 16:18
- 1 John 3:18
- John 15:12, John 13:34
Jenny Brady serves as Senior Director of Community Engagement at Legacy Christian Academy. She is nationally and internationally recognized as a leader in Kingdom diversity and unity work from a Biblical perspective. She has helped Christian schools develop and implement initiatives that create communities of belonging. Her work allows her to express her passion for Biblical diversity, equity, justice, and inclusion while combining her personal experience of growing up in Honduras. Jenny holds an MS in Sociology and a BA in Spanish. In the educational realm, Jenny has worked as a teacher and administrator and is on the Senior Leadership Team at LCA. She is the co-founder of the Christian Educators Diversity Alliance.