Saying Goodbye


When I knew in my own mind that I was going to leave Bethel Church in Boulder, Colorado, I read Roy M. Oswald’s “Running Through the Thistles.” Oswald’s title comes from an experience he had as a boy. He and his brothers went to school barefooted, and when they wanted to take a short cut home, they had to run through large patches of thistles in the fields. They believed that if they ran fast enough they wouldn’t feel the pain.


Oswald believes that too often that’s how pastors try to get through the pain of terminating a ministry: by running as fast as they can and ignoring or denying the pain. Oswald warns that how you say goodbye, how you live your life during these times, is how you will die. If you slink away in the night, that’s how you will die. If you carry grudges, and can’t forgive, you will carry those grudges into your next ministry setting. If you are unresponsive to your own needs and the needs of other in taking leave, you will be unresponsive in dying.


I took Oswald’s advice to heart: I wanted there to be joy in my leaving Bethel Church, so I set about affirming who I was as a pastor and celebrated my ministries even as I intentionally brought them to a close. I took time to be with people, to give plenty of time for grieving, and it was wonderful–party, party, party, as they say! Joy, joy, joy! Each group threw its own going away party, and there were many goodbyes.


As I brought my relationship to these groups to a close, the groups developed new leadership and planned to continue meeting. I thanked and celebrated our gracious God for that.