The apostle Paul committed the elders to God and his grace in Acts chapter 20 as he departed, saying that 'he was leaving and that they would never see his face again.' They wept having been with him for about three years and had to be torn away from him after they knelt and prayed together for the last time.
Wow, Paul didn't mince his words. He knew that his time to go had come. He had prepared them and now it was to go to other places where the spirit of God was guiding him to minister.
Have you ever had to say goodbye?
I'm sure you can agree with me that one of the hardest things to say is goodbye, especially when you feel a great tug to stay. Do you ignore thinking of going and a future destination because you see the needs? You see that people still want you to be there, they love what you can give? And perhaps if you leave your present situation the organisation may flounder or suffer?
We struggle for many reasons to say goodbye. What will I do if I go? Maybe I can stay a few more years and think about it then? I feel my time is done, but hang on; my role is known, all the people know me, why change, why leave this security blanket?
For many of us our inner voice says something like that. So, we don't think to say goodbye.
Why is it a blessing to say goodbye?
Like it or not our presence can actually hinder the next tier and new generation from rising up. We can become like a huge old tree in the forest that casts shade on all the smaller trees. People can struggle to grow. This type of leader ends up doing mostly everything and people just watch on. On the contrary, intentional training with delegation leads to a finale, people say goodbye, and it leads to growth.
Paul knew this and in Acts chapter 20 we read how he had done all he could with the time he had. He told them that he had not hesitated to teach them the whole counsel of God, that he was innocent of the blood of all men. Now was their time to practice what they heard and saw in the apostle's life.
Paul had worked conscientiously and purposefully, equipping the elders to lead faithfully. He never stagnated. He began, as we see in Acts chapter 19, finding stray believers and helping them get equipped in the Holy Spirit. Then, he went another level doing evangelism and daily teaching, fathering new sons in the faith.
Some accepted the gospel and others not, but God showed up working extraordinary miracles that confirmed his call. As persecution arose, many repented and joined the church because it was an authentic work and move of God; the river of God was flowing.
Paul worked as one knowing that one day he would go. He had a destination. He knew where he was going. So, he helped people find and connect with Jesus rather than making people overly dependent on himself. We would do well to do the same.
Things reached an ignition point where in Acts chapter 20 he could say, take care of the flock over which you are appointed. He knew they knew how; he had made them ready. And he knew, as a watchman, that 'savage wolves would come in to ravage the flock,' but they were equipped and would grow through the warfare as they discharged their ministry of God's word to the next generation. They would have the satisfaction of seeing many new people touched and experience the same fire that Paul carried in Ephesus.
Saying goodbye can be hard but said the manner in which Paul had done so is not only dignifying but life changing.
Too many people have not been saying goodbye.
No wonder tensions arise as people harbour positions that should have been passed on. It is wise to talk about progress with leaders. Some fail to see that looking ahead, saying goodbye is due one day.
Sure, not everyone will have to leave an organisation. Some will stay all their lives. And that kind of loyalty and staying power is vital for success too. However, any healthy organisation understands transition planning at the same time, and there is always an active focus on identifying and passing on the baton to new and vigorous leaders who have a vision for the future - and creating room for them to grow. There need not be a use-by date in our organisations if we understand this; things need not go stale and become tiring.
Saying goodbye in practice
I recently had to say goodbye myself. After twenty seven long years of active service in my local church as a pastor and elder. It was a difficult decision and yet God made it possible. One fine Sunday, a year prior, all the leaders were assembled up front at our anniversary. I recall seeing many up there that I had personally trained and encouraged to become an elder and a pillar in the house as a part of our four centres.
The Lord told me, "Your job is done here."
After a five-month sabbatical period of seeking the Lord, that initial sense of God's leading only grew and came to fruition. This month I am formally saying goodbye. It has definitely been really challenging. I love everyone very much. I had to take many practical considerations into account too. However, God has shown many signs and spoken about his leading clearly to enter a new season. Thankfully relationships are intact.
Don't ever be afraid to say goodbye my friend. Remember, you can't enter the new thing unless you go. People will appreciate you more.