When The Bags Are Packed: Leaving Well

Trisha DavisWritten by Trisha Davis

It was Easter 2013 when I realized that packing boxes would be in my near future. Our family moved to Nashville, TN, in 2009 to launch Cross Point Church’s third campus. My husband, Justin, took on the role of campus pastor. Although I knew someday down the road he would return to being a senior pastor (like way, way, way down the road), I didn’t expect it to happen this soon.

As you know, Easter is like the Super Bowl! I was leading worship that morning and the excitement and joy of our staff and volunteers was at an all-time high. But this Sunday was different for Justin. As he lead our creative team in a mini-devotional and prayer time before the first service, his melancholy tone and his posture of defeat told me he had checked out.

We sat in his office after the final service, and I started to cry. I shared with him that his loss of passion for his position would eventually start to hurt our staff and church family. His tears started to match mine and in that moment, we knew we had to make a very painful choice. A choice to say nothing, collect a pay check and pretend like everything was okay or a choice to speak truth and confess hoping to find a healthy solution.

A couple of weeks later we sat down on Pete and Brandi Wilson’s couch, who not only lead Cross Point Church but have been our dear friends for many years. They knew before we even spoke a word. I was crying and unable to utter enough words to make a sentence. We shared openly and honestly how Justin was struggling in his current role. The pain on their faces was almost too much for me to bear and we left their house wondering if we had done the right thing.

It’s been two and a half years since that painful conversation. I have learned so much about how to leave well during our long season of transition. So if you’re reading this post in the midst of your own transition, I want to encourage you with four basic principles that will help you leave well.

  1. Be honest and transparent.

There was no drama and no hidden reason Justin was stepping down. We loved Cross Point Church and still do! We loved our campus, our staff, our small group – we loved everything about our church which made the leaving even harder. But Justin longed to be a senior pastor again.

That night on the Wilson’s couch I was painfully honest and transparent about the fact that Justin and I weren’t on the same page. I confessed to them that I didn’t want to leave and that our kids didn’t want to leave. Yes, I knew Justin needed to step down from his position but I was not yet ready for him to be a senior pastor again.

Because we were honest, it gave Pete and our executive team a clear picture of where we were as a family.  So instead of just booting Justin to the curb he was offered a different position. They didn’t have to nor did they owe him this! But this new part-time position gave us the time and space to get healthy enough in our marriage and in our family to know when it was the right time to move. Fast forward to this past summer, we were healthy, expectant and EXCITED not only as a couple but as a family and we moved to Indianapolis, Indiana to plant Hope City Church.

You may not be given this transition option like we were. In fact, yours may be much more challenging and even get ugly. No matter what, honesty is the best route to take at all times even if others don’t respond well to it. At least you will know that you’ve done the right thing before God.

  1. Don’t take the grieving process personally.

God has given us the gift of grief. Grief provides a pathway to healing from what was lost. There are five stages to grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance but not necessarily in that order. In your decision to leave, take the time to process all the emotions and questions that come with it. Give the people on your staff and in your congregation the gift of time and space and remember not to take their grieving process personally.

  1. Speak life.

When you are a part of a group of people who are grieving, hurtful words are sure to be spoken. It will be very tempting to respond and defend your decision which often leads to unnecessary drama. People are going to talk, but you can’t control other people’s opinions. You can, however, control how you respond to them. Speaking life is not to be confused with sugar coating what may be an ugly departure. I’m not advocating for you to be fake or inauthentic, but its important to have a mentor, counselor or trusted friend to be able to process the ugly side of leaving. Trying to navigate people’s pain who may not know the whole story and shouldn’t know the whole story only leads to more pain and divisiveness. Not everybody will understand, and you will have to be okay with that.Trisha Davis b

  1. Pray.

I know you totally rolled your eyes at me and that’s okay because I can’t see you! If you want to know how to navigate every step of your transition as a staff member, then spend time in prayer. We are human and when left unto ourselves, we can be pretty awful toward one another. The power of prayer is an act of humility, recognizing that no matter how perfect we think our transition will go, we are bound to mess things up.

Looking back on this transitioning season, Justin and I realize how blessed we were to be a part of a great church that helped us leave well. You may not have the same experience as we did and may have to overcome difficult obstacles. Regardless, we don’t use other people’s treatment of us to justify our wrong actions. Leaving is never easy but there is always an opportunity to leave well.

Of the four suggestion Trisha made above, which one do you feel you need to work on in your own life when it comes to transition and change? (Honesty/transparency, not taking things personally, speaking life, or praying)

One thought on “When The Bags Are Packed: Leaving Well

  1. Andrea Worley

    I love your thoughts about being open and honest! i think that’s so important and doesn’t happen enough in the church. and i love that even though pete & brandi were sad personally but that they gave you their blessing and god’s grace to transition well. i wish more senior pastor leadership were more generous with this and open handed to God with this! Thanks for sharing!

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