Finishing well does not necessary refer to retirement due to age, as we don’t retire in the kingdom of God. However ministry opportunities may vary throughout our lifetime and the way we finish one ministry or job will often determine how the next one goes.
Unfortunately not all people and churches transition well but when we do leave well, it normally opens up the way for more effective ministry. It can even lead us into obscurity with greater fruitfulness! Let me explain.
Jesus said ‘it is finished’ John19:30. For the disciples it must have been a shattering disappointment, especially as they expected Jesus to set up his earthly kingdom and reign over Israel. Losing their close friend would also have been a bitter disappointment. Their perspective however was completely wrong like ours can be when we wrongly judge the effectiveness of our ministry or job. Don’t judge the effectiveness of what you have been doing too harshly or too soon!
On a different note Paul made the comment, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing’ 2 Timothy 4:7,8. Well-done Paul.
- If you outstay your welcome, your ministry will become less effective and may in fact implode. Most Christians have times of fruitfulness and otherwise. Try not to leave through a valley of discouragement unless you have clear guidance or signs point to the fact it is time to move on.
- To finish well does not always mean we leave on a high. Sometimes God needs to remind us that we still have feet of clay so that He gets the glory! For example, in one situation just before I left a church as senior pastor I had to step down a good friend in ministry for the sake of the well being of the church. That person surprisingly did not cope well even though he assured me that he was happy for this to happen at any time. I left grieving that my friend was hurting and I couldn’t do much about it. Ministry is not about us, but about God and His glory. That church continues to thrive under the new leadership. ‘Dying to self’ is a necessary part of any significant spiritual journey.
- Don’t hold your ministry or position tightly. Always look and prepare a successor to take over from you even if it doesn’t work out in the end. That training will not be wasted on the person you spend time with.
- Don’t create a crisis as you approach leaving. The Spirit’s help is still available for what you need.
- When you leave, make sure you really do leave unless you have a clear invitation to stay connected. At the invitation of elders on one occasion to stay connected when I left a church it became obvious that the new pastor did not want that, so with some disappointment I let the opportunity go. Don’t take it personally if that is your situation, as it is good and normally necessary to keep your distance.
- Be prepared as you transition out of one ministry or job for the next to be different. Your previous experience may be a great asset but it will need to be contextualized in your new situation.
- When leaving a ministry accept a farewell celebration. However use this as an opportunity to bless the people and honour those who worked with you. The way you leave one ministry will definitely have a strong impact on your next one.
- Avoid cynicism at all costs, which is a sin and get good debriefing especially if you need to deal with any hurts and issues of unforgiveness. If you need to apologise, do so.
- If your personal identity is completely tied up with your ministry or job then when you move on don’t be surprised if you have some identity crises especially if you have extra time on your hands. We should however recognize that our identity should primarily be tied up with who we are in Christ regardless of what we do. We are primarily His loved son or daughter.
- When you leave a ministry God may not always open up another immediately. This can be a wilderness experience for you as it was for Moses who spent 40 years in the desert. However this is unlikely to be wasted time if God is leading. Panic can lead you into the wrong job!
- If you are close to burnout recover well before you launch into another ministry.
- Bigger and more spectacular types of ministry are not always God’s will for you. We do not climb a ladder like people do in the secular world of success. For example, we have a lady pastor friend in Sri Lanka who was a prominent Christian leader. We visited her a few years ago to bring encouragement and found she now lives in a remote town in the high country where her main ministry is in running a small house church amongst the very poor. She is still fulfilled. How good is that and to God be the glory!
‘Rethinking Retirement’ and ‘Desiring God’ by John Piper
‘Honourably’ Wounded’ by Marjory F Foyle
‘Finishing Well’ by Bob Buford