Transitional Leadership for Youth Ministry: Saying Goodbye (Part 7 of 7)
This is the seventh and final installment of the 7-part series I posted on my blog, dedicating real estate to blogging through the transitional process--announcing departure, setting up systems for success, remembering the work God has done, looking into the future, etc.
I have never been very good at goodbyes. Yet, the time has come, and this week will be one of goodbyes.
I feel like I have been working so hard over the past eight weeks to prepare for this, and yet I know that it is still going to be the hardest part of the transition process. Leaving well involves finishing well, and that means saying goodbye well. So, what does that look like? For me, there are a few elements that I (and other church leadership) are intentionally working into the goodbye process. This probably isn't an exhaustive list, but this is where I'll be starting this week:
- Celebration - I don't really like being at the center of attention or celebration (and I know I may get balked at by some family and friends for saying that, but for real--the natural introvert in me is exhausted by attention and celebration). However, it is really important, for the sake of healthy goodbyes, that people have the opportunity to celebrate with and for you. We've opened up the graduation/going away party at our house Sunday afternoon to the youth from the church, to give them the opportunity to celebrate with us. A few of the kids put together a bulletin board at the church celebrating the years I have served. Allow people the opportunity to celebrate with you.
- Affirmation - Let your last words to the people you are leaving be words of affirmation. I've spent a good deal of my time the past two weeks writing letters of affirmation to young people and adult volunteers. I want them to know as I'm leaving how highly I think of them, how much I care for them, and how much God loves them.
- Blessing - The act of blessing needs to go both ways. Give the congregation the opportunity to bless you as you leave (particularly if you are leaving on good terms, which I hope is always the case). In my case, this is happening during worship on my last Sunday. But also, be sure that you leave the people you have served with a blessing--whether written or spoken. Bless and release. Those are some important words to remember.
- Allow Room for Emotions - Different people are going to have different emotions as you are leaving. Allow room for all those emotions. Give kids the freedom to cry with you, to laugh with you, to be angry at you, and to express all of those emotions in healthy ways. Chances are you'll have some emotions of your own, and don't be afraid to let those emotions show, too.
- "See You Later" - Anymore, goodbyes are rarely permanent. Particularly in the church, we always cling to the promise that we will once again meet at Jesus' feet in the heavenly throne room. Remind yourself, and remind the church, that goodbyes don't have to be permanent--it's more like saying "see you later." In an age where technology bridges all gaps of time and distance, take advantage of the ability that you will have to stay connected, even if that level of connection is going to change.
Again, this isn't an exhaustive list. Goodbyes are still going to be messy and emotional, and nothing is ever going to end perfectly. But be intentional. Celebrate. Affirm. Bless. Allow room for emotions.
The way you say goodbye is just as important as the way you said hello. Finish strong.
Erin M Haligowski
Erin M Haligowski serves as the full-time Youth Director at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies (Practical Theology) from Ashland University (2007) and a Masters of Divinity in General Ministry from Ashland Theological Seminary (2011). Erin is a social media power-user, and blogs regularly. She is happily married to her husband, Scott. In her dream world, Erin would spend her time sharing Jesus with young people, playing guitar, and sipping a good cup of light roast coffee from Caribou Coffee.