I'm by no means the expert at pastoral transitions, but I have done it a couple of times. Being as I'm in the middle of one right now, I thought I'd share some of my observations.

1. The leaving pastor usually overestimates the amount of time the church will need him on staff to transition. When we left the church in Arlington to come to Fellowship, we gave them almost 30 days notice because we wanted to make the transition easier. In reality, that makes the transition a lot harder for everyone involved - it's like ripping a band-aid off a little bit at a time. Once you've announced your transition, you need about a week to pass the baton and a week to say goodbye. Beyond those two weeks, it's virtually impossible to do any good.

2. Even if you're not planning a transition now, you should be planning for your transition now. All of us is going to transition out of our role at one point or another. If you truly care about the ministry you're leading, you should always have one or two people trained to the point that things could go off without a hitch if you keel over tomorrow. As I look back at some of the ministries I've been able to be a part of in the past, it's pretty obvious where I've done this well and where I've done a lousy job. You don't want the ministry to take a giant step backwards when you leave, so start preparing leaders now.

3. Leave on good terms. Even if you're leaving a ministry because of conflict, you should leave as best you can on good terms. There's never a reason to air your dirty laundry to the congregation or others. You don't have to lie to someone who asks, but be general enough in what you say that you don't become a diviscive force as you leave. "This just isn't a good fit for us anymore" is a much better answer than "Pastor Larry is a crook." Pastor Larry will still be around after you leave with the power to clear his name of anything you say about him. You won't have that luxury. If there's a major issue that the governing body at the church needs to know about, by all means let them know, but after you've resigned, you have a responsibility to let them decide whether or not to go public with that information.

4. Clean up before you go. One of the worst experiences of my ministry life was starting a ministry where the guy before me started all kinds of projects and left them for me to finish. He thought he was doing me a favor by planning all kinds of events so I wouldn't have to, but I ended up executing the events that he planned. Finish everything you can so the new guy/girl can start with a clean slate.

5. Offer your assistance, but don't stalk your successor. In every position I've left, I leave behind a small folder trying to catch my successor up on the "state of the ministry." I leave him the previous year's calendar, pertinent phone numbers, and a list of activities and programs we've done with contact information in case he wanted to use it. I top that folder off with a letter from me that includes my current contact information. If he needs my help, I invite him to call me. Otherwise, I leave him alone. Believe it or not, I had one predecessor who called me once a week for four months at a past position just to see if I needed any help. Those conversations were weird, awkward, and completely unneccessary.

Transitions can be great for both parties involved, provided they're handled in a careful and professional manner. If I get time later this week, I'll talk about transitions from the other side - how to transition in to a new role.