The Church Doctor® Report

When Staff Leave 

Finishing Well 

 VOL. 7 NO. 4 July/August 2011
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Kent Hunter  leads Church Doctor Ministries, a ministry that helps churches serve more effectively for the Great Commission.  Kent and his associates have trained a network of regional Church Doctors who help churches maximize ministry as staff leaders change, helping them to develop a succession plan.  The process helps church staff finish well. 

Future of Baby Boomers

"Starting 1/1/11, more than 10,000 Boomers retire each day - a trend that will continue every day for 19 years.  Some of them will include your pastor or church staff."

Featured Service 
Finishing Well Coaching

The transition of church staff to retirement or to another church is a sensitive, emotional, and challenging process for congregations and staff leaders alike.  An outside coach brings objectivity and knowledge of best practices, experienced with timing issues and planning that respects the welfare of the leader who is leaving, while helping the church travel the succession journey seamlessly.


Finishing Well Coaching provides a professional guide who sensitively guards the needs of the staff leader, the church, and the successor.  The end result is the valuable transition plan that honors the leader who is leaving, assimilates the successor, and serves the church.  The process provides a clear way of communicating the transition with proper timing and celebrating the change.  This service is a wise investment.  Congregations should not experience a poor transition.    


The American Dream (website). In 2011 The Baby Boomers Start To Turn 65: 16 Statistics About The Coming Retirement Crisis That Will Drop Your Jaw. (click here for web article). 


"Baby Boomer 'Retirement' Facts" What's Next In Your Life. (click here for web article).


Brandon, Emily. "How Baby Boomer Retirement Will Change the World. USNews. (click here for web article).


Chand, Samuel R. Planning Your Succession: Preparing for Your Future. Highland Park, IL:  Mall Publishing Company, 2008.


Farris, Lawrence W.  Ten Commandments for Pastors Leaving a Congregation.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006.
Hinden, Stan
. How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire.  Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill, 2010.


Hunter, Kent R. Analysis and Decision-Making. Corunna, IN: Church Doctor Ministries, 2008. (click here to download)



Hunter, Kent R. The Future is Now: How God is Moving in the 21st Century. Corunna, IN: Church Doctor Ministries, 2008. (click here to download)


Hunter, Kent R. Stress and Burnout: Survive and Thrive Through Church Leadership. Corunna, IN: Church Doctor Ministries, 2008. (click here to download) 


Lloyd, Mary. Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  Hankfritz Press, 2009

Zelinski, Ernie. How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free: Retirement Wisdom That You Won't Get from Your Financial Advisor. Edmonton, Alberta: Visions International Publishing, 2009.
Healthy Churches Thrive!


"We have tried program after program in our church.  As a pastor, I've introduced most of them!  But the essence of our church has not changed.  Our congregation is in the fifth month of the Healthy Churches Thrive! Pilgrimage.  We are experiencing an internal spiritual movement.  I can see that by the time we are finished, we are going to be a different, more mission-oriented church.  This Pilgrimage is not about what we do.  It is about who we are and what we are becoming."

~Pastor, Fort Wayne, Indiana 


Healthy Churches Thrive!


  • Financed beyond the church budget, by a Vision Team
  • Diagnostic phase to specifically direct ministry to your unique church
  • Tangible recommendations for your church, followed by Action Plans
  • Development of a Prayer Team, coached by a Church Doctor intercessor
  • Personal, monthly coaching for the senior leader, provided by a certified pastoral leadership coach
  • A biblical worldview campaign
  • Learning Communities, taught by 10 teaching DVDs
  • An Outreach Clinic for everyone in your church, equipping them to reach their social networks
  • Tangible results measured and reported regularly throughout the Pilgrimage
  • Multiplication Events for your community
  • A bottom-up, gentle rediscovery of first century Christianity, directed toward our 21st century world.


"Our church is large.  The proposal for the Healthy Churches Thrive! Spiritual Pilgrimage required 35 people to pledge $25 per month for 18 months to pay for it.  When we asked for commitments, we were shocked by the 100 people who pledged.  We'll use the extra money for other ministry projects and pay for the Healthy Churches Thrive! Pilgrimage too!"

~Report from a church near Denver, Colorado

June 2012 UK Immersion Experience  

Catch the wave God is creating out of Sheffield, England.  "You have to see it and feel it to get it."  A move of God is relationally caught as much as taught.  This 10-day excursion will help you experience one of the movements that is coming to North America, and has already begun! 



June 2012

Team Limit: 20



Watch the

Now Accepting Inquiries for June 2012

Fill out our online application: 

or e-mail Jason for more information (

SEND North America

SEND North America:  now receiving applications from young adults for the training period from September 2011 to June 2012.  Join the adventure of a lifetime, the movement of a century!  Limit:  25. 


  • Live in community
  • Learn and grow in discipleship
  • Train through hands-on ministry
  • Become a 21st century networking Christian
  • Catch revival DNA


Changing the world begins with you at

Check out the latest Video Blog from SEND Leader, Josh Humberger
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On January 1, 2011, the first of the Baby Boomers turned 65.  Pastors and church staff members everywhere are privately talking about retirement.  Meanwhile, normal staff transitions have accelerated in churches - due to the stress and challenges that go along with doing church in the modern/postmodern hinge point of history.  If that wasn't enough, the recent recession years have caused churches to downsize and reconfigure staff leadership.  All together, these issues represent a tsunami of change hitting churches.  I agree with Sam Chand, author of Planning Your Succession:  "80% of churches are not prepared or even preparing!"  The cost to church vitality is enormous.  Do you know of a church where an exit of a staff person (through retirement, downsizing, or just moving on) has gone poorly?  The emotional impact of a bad transition costs churches members, money, and momentum. 


David was excited to start his new position as senior pastor at Community Church in Middleton - a small city in the northwest.  He was recruited by several key leaders of the congregation who sensed that, as a large church, they needed a change from a pastor/shepherd model to a leader who equips and delegates, as a senior pastor.  Little did David know about the meddling attitude of the retired former pastor, John.  John, a seemingly pleasant man, had retired 10 years earlier.  However, he never left the church and had undermined the last three senior pastors - all who had short tenures of service at Community Church.  John seemingly meant well, but his influence on members to focus on the "good old days" had disrupted the congregation for a decade.  He spoke often to members behind David's back:  "This new pastor!  We need a shepherd and got a CEO!"  The problem wasn't David.  It was John, who was methodically dismantling the congregation he had led for 30 years.  The problem wasn't all John, either.  The issue behind the issue is that John did not finish well.  The church and John never developed a succession plan.  The cost to the church?  Beyond calculation!

An Exercise in Extreme


Changing staff at churches is frequently an unnecessary traumatic experience.  It can go bad at both ends of the spectrum:  (1) the staff person who was not a good fit; and (2) the one who was greatly loved and accepted.  


Sally's tenure as pastor will go down in history as a great leader who turned Emmanuel Church around.  But it won't be interpreted that way for another 30 years!  Sally's style was strong and direct.  What she lacked in people skills she made up for in strategic thinking and tireless effort.  The church made changes, but the waves rocked the boat more than many could handle.  The opposition movement got organized and began to question Sally's leadership.  Meanwhile, some members left the church because of the tension.  One day, Sally had had enough and quit.  The abrupt departure was not planned, communicated, or developed.  Sally had privately received another position elsewhere, and she left.  Sally could have made a plan that included dialog.  It could have helped the church prepare, process, and acknowledge her departure.  It would have helped Sally learn some valuable lessons - and grow her for her next position.  It was all very abrupt, with many casualties. 


Chris was one of the most loved and appreciated youth pastors at Orchard Park Church.  Everyone liked Chris and his wife, Tina.  Chris had a great personality, and he was excellent for the student ministry.  The ministry grew significantly during Chris' six and a half year tenure at the church.  One day, Chris got an offer from a church down state.  They wanted him there within a month.  It was a great opportunity to grow a ministry and stretch his skills.  Without even thinking about the repercussions at Orchard Park, Chris announced he was leaving.  The only person who knew was the senior pastor.  Chris felt that since he had discussed it with his leader, that was all he needed to do.  Chris served well, and left poorly.  He had no idea about the level of abandonment, the sense of loss, and the feeling of pain.


Staff Comes, Staff Goes: Get Over It!


Church staff people are always temporary, so what's the big deal?  The big deal is the way God designed ministry.  Ministry, when it's at its best, is relational.  Also when it's at its worst!  And for those staff leaders who are loved by some and frustrate others, it's still relational.  It's always complicated. 


Ministry is relational because it's incarnational - in the flesh.  Christianity without relationships is academic and institutional - a religion.  However, Christianity is a spiritual movement, and, as such, it's all about relationships.  Try as you might, it gets personal - for good or bad. 


That's why, as staff comes and goes, relational sensitivity is important.  People are incarnationally attached at a spiritual level.  It is more than just a social connection.  Try as you will to direct people to Christ,  they still see the staff person as a representation of Christ.  It is not difficult for church members who thank God for a well-loved person to feel deep-seeded abandonment when that pastor leaves.  They feel abandoned by their pastor who is leaving, but deep down they feel just a touch of abandonment by God.  It may be momentary, but it's real. 


A key directive for staff is this:  be sensitive about the feelings others have about you when you are choosing to leave.  Make a plan, work the plan, finish well. 


A Finishing Plan  

Finishing well is a ministry, whether you are retiring, moving on, or being moved out.  There are several elements of a good plan to transition from your position at your church: 

  1. Plan in advance, as much as possible.  When you have a new job offer, the timeframe may be shorter.  As you plan retirement, your planning time could be longer.  If you face a sudden, serious illness or the "opposition" is forcing you out, the timing may be very short.  To whatever degree you are able, the more time you spend to develop a plan, the better. 
  2. You will naturally make thorough plans for yourself and your family.  Be sure to think through a plan from the perspective of your church and the people.
  3. Pray about your plan.  Ask God to direct you with the heart of a servant, and the spirit of Jesus.
  4. Think about yourself from two polar opposites at once:  (1) you are less important than you think:  this church will go on without you.  Christ is the Head of the church - you never could get that job; (2) you are more important than you may realize - in the lives of the people.  Be sensitive to their feelings.
  5. Make your plan with the help of an outside person who is not subjectively and emotionally involved in your church.  If you can, use a professional who knows churches.  This will help you the most.  Your church Board will most likely recognize the emotional nature of the situation and see the financial investment involved to be a good value compared to the fallout that could occur if the transition goes poorly. 
  6. As you plan, be sensitive about communication and timing.  There is a correct time to discuss your leaving with the senior leader, another time with the staff, an additional time with the Board, and another time with the whole congregation.  Each of these represents different times of communication.  In your communication, try to be as positive and clear as possible.  Be gentle, soft, and sensitive about your relationships with the people of the church.
  7. At some levels, you may be involved in planning through your successor.  There are a wide variety of models to help the church through the transition toward your replacement.  The most seamless transition is not always the most obvious.  For example:  if you are the leader and have an associate or assistant, the predictable approach is that the associate or assistant gets the job.  Yet, in most situations, that becomes the poor choice.  It activates the "Peter Principle," and programs that person for failure.  Some people are gifted to be assistants and associates.  Honor that! 
  8. The best and most seamless way to transition well is the model given by Jesus:  disciple your successor(s).  Then make sure you leave!  If you can't ascend into heaven, do your best to move out of town.  At the very least, leave the church!

Ten Ingredients for Finishing Well 

  1. Recognize that moving on is a sensitive, emotional, great opportunity to minister to those you are leaving.
  2. Plan well in advance to finish well - long before you "go public."
  3. Utilize an outside coach, who is not emotionally involved, but is professionally equipped to be your guide - and to guide the church and your successor.
  4. If you are retiring, remember, there is no precedent in Scripture for the historically recent concept of retirement.  Think in terms of "refirement": what will you do next? 
  5. Do not plan to stay around the church.  While there are rare exceptions, in most cases, it causes pain and disruption - for everyone.
  6. If you want to continue serving part-time, find a church that needs help - any church except the one you're leaving.
  7. As you make a plan to leave, choose the timing of announcements very carefully.
  8. Put specific dates to each step of your exit strategy - and stick to them.
  9. Do not leave before you leave (the lame duck syndrome).  Work hard, finish strong, and finish the race with integrity.
  10. Allow your church to celebrate your years of service.  This is an act of grace on your part, and transition therapy for the church.