Keeping the Good in Goodbye -- By: Robert D. Dale

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 010:2 (Spring 1993)
Article: Keeping the Good in Goodbye
Author: Robert D. Dale

Keeping the Good in Goodbye

Robert D. Dale

Director, Center for Creative Church Leadership Development
and Assistant Executive Director, Virginia Baptist General Board

All good things must end, so the old saying goes. It’s true. Even the most productive ministry finally ends by retirement or resignation. When the time inevitably comes to conclude a ministry, how can leaders keep the good in goodbye? It really isn’t doubletalk to ask ourselves a repetitive question: how can happy and healthy ministers leave happy and healthy churches happily and healthily?

The nature of change forces us to examine transition processes closely—if we
want to keep happy and healthy churches in that blessed state. Why? Because
change isn’t easy for most of us, and because conflict lurks amid change. Conflict
is always the dark underbelly of change. In fact, change and conflict are reciprocal.
Change creates conflict, and conflict creates change. When change is handled
poorly, a congregation can become one big un-happy family. The accumulated
stressors of change—welcomed or unwelcomed—has been graphically documented by the classic studies of Holmes and Rahe.1 Therefore, to achieve and maintain happiness and health calls on us to understand how crucial transitions are. Transitions often invite vacuums for organizational demons to enter congregations. Transitions open us systems so that those demons can be exorcised. Change brings out the best—and the worst—in us. Consequently, effective leaders must stay alert for ways to prevent problems and to enhance happiness and health in church life. As the old folk saying goes, “Dig your well before you’re thirsty.”

Guides To Steer By

A blueprint or roadmap for managing ministry transitions would be invaluable, if we only we could develop such a guide. We need what the ancient mariners described as rutters.2 During the Age of Discovery in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, adventurous European sailors were crossing oceans to explore both the East and West. Accurate maps or guides often made the difference between success and disaster. Among the navigational logs were occasionally found some narrative accounts written by pilots who had traversed these waters before. These prized guidebooks were called rutters. Channel depths, wind patterns, ocean currents, shoals and reefs, havens and harbors were identified and charted.

Some ministerial rutters or models for professional and organizational health are fortunately emerging from diverse sources. This essay will apply some of those resources to the issues of leadership transitions an...

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