Books reviewed by James Woodward

Ten Commandments for Pastors leaving a congregation

Ten Commandments for Pastors leaving a congregationLawrence W. Farris,
Eerdmans June 2006, 105pp, pbk. £6.99,
ISBN 0-8028-2924-4

Over the past twenty years I have been fortunate in ministry to have had five very different but equally rewarding and stimulating ministerial posts.  To my knowledge I have never received (or indeed asked for) any advice about how to leave each of these jobs!  Further, I know that those congregations that I have led and pastored have certainly not thought through in any systematic way how best to support and  reflect upon the end of one ministry and the beginning of another.

It is obvious that pastoral transitions can be fraught with pitfalls, and support, reflection, and advice are much needed.  I have had the experience of a congregation that was able to let go and move on and indeed look forward to the possibilities that a transition offered.  I have also had the experience of working with a congregation who were unwilling, at least in the early stages of my ministry, to let go of the past and some were even determined to ensure that I should safeguard the past at the expense of any innovation or change.

This small book, published by Eerdmans in the United States of America, is a first-rate introduction to opening up some of the issues that surround pastoral transitions.   It is strongly earthed in experience and in openness to the positive and negative experiences of clergy who have departed one ministry for another.  What becomes clear is that leave-taking is hugely problematic and almost impossible to manage successfully (however we are to understand that modern paradigm).  Farris demonstrates that there are good endings and what he describes as abbreviated or lack-of-closure endings which can either enable or encumber both pastor and congregation.

 The book takes a simple format – ten commandments – which are not heavy-handed dictums but rather suggestions for helpful strategies.  An outline of heading titles will give an indication of the questions and issues addressed: thou shalt know when it is time to go; thou explain thyself; thou shalt not steal away; thou shalt affirm thy congregation’s ministry; thou shalt try to mend fences; thou shalt help thy successor have a good beginning; thou shalt be gentle with thyself; thou shalt attend to thy family; thou shalt stay away once thou hast left, and thou shalt grieve.

The book manages to write a spiritual and a theological vision which is earthed in the experience of pastoral ministry.  While there is sometimes a tendency to tie up loose ends rather quickly or conveniently, there is rarely a page without food for further thought and action.  I would certainly recommend this book to any ministers wanting to reflect on what they believe they’re doing with a congregation and how best they might support decisions and changes in congregational and parish life.  Much more attention needs to be given to these dynamics and this is a useful tool for that purpose.

James Woodward