At some point in your leadership as a pastor, you will have a staff member, elder, deacon or volunteer resign and say, “I’m done.” It might happen suddenly as if out of nowhere, it might be mutually a good idea. It might be hard to take or it might be a hidden blessing. Regardless of the situation, there are some things you can do to honor them, the situation, communicate it so that it is a win and move forward for both the person leaving and the organization.
Here are a 8 ways to make it a win for you, the other leader and your church:
- Find out the whole story from the person. When people leave a situation, they tend to not tell the whole stories. They will often tell their boss or ministry leader only what they’re comfortable sharing or what they think the other person wants to hear. Do as much as you can to find out exactly what happened and why they are leaving. Find out what is underneath things and keep digging. This will help you to learn as a leader if you did something wrong or if there is something unhealthy in your church. Don’t take simple Christian cliche’s if you can avoid it, make them explain it. Too often in these situations, because they are difficult, people in a church environment hide behind “God told me, God is moving me” etc.
- Honor them and what they’ve done publicly as much as possible. The person leaving has done a lot for your church, whether you want to admit it or not. Even though, in this moment it is difficult and it hurts, honor them. They’ve meant something to you, your church and others. Honor them. Thank them. Give people a chance to say thank you. People care deeply about how much you honor someone. This gives you a chance to show people how you as a church treat people. Someday, your church may treat you the way you treat leaders who have transitioned out.
- Say what only needs to be said publicly. If sin is involved, relational strife, poor job performance or anything else that is difficult, you don’t need to put that out there. I’m not suggesting that you lie or take an arrow for someone else’s sin or stupidity, you just don’t need to share everything. Each situation will dictate what you say. We’ve had staff members leave Revolution, we’ve had to let staff members go, we’ve disciplined elders for sin and because each situation is different, it changed what we said publicly. If the person leaving is not an on-stage, well known person in the ministry, don’t bring them on stage to say goodbye. Talk about it in the places this person has touched and affected.
- Publicly, focus on the future. When you make the public announcement and have thanked the person or explained what happened, spend as much time as possible focusing on the future and how things will not fall apart. I would say in the “official” announcement, you need to spend 80% of the time on the future. Show people you are moving forward and the ministry/church will survive.
- Be honest publicly and privately. As a pastor, don’t lie. Every fact doesn’t need to be shared, but don’t lie. In private, don’t make things up, don’t bash the person. Have one person you are venting to if it a difficult situation who is speaking into your heart on the situation, but don’t have a team of people you are venting to.
- Honor them financially. Whatever the situation, you are called to shepherd them and take care of pastors. Go above and beyond financially and in terms of insurance. Once, we moved a pastor who was with us for 3 months back to Indiana. He wasn’t a fit and everyone knew it quickly and they had just moved so we felt the honorable thing was to move them back to where they came from. Sometimes you give months of salary and benefits, sometimes you give a week. Again, it depends on the situation. One rule of thumb I’ve used is: if this became public, what would people think of us and how we’ve handled this and what we game the person. Another way, would I want the same treatment I am giving this person?
- Create a transition plan as quickly as possible. Don’t wait to decide what is next for the ministry. Grieve what is happening, find out the story and start on a plan. Don’t wait around. If you are the lead pastor or the leader of a ministry area, take the lead and get this done. People will want to know the ship is being steadied and you are moving forward.
- Transition them as quickly as possible. This last one will seem unloving because it is a church environment. When someone says, “I’m done” they’ve been done for weeks or possibly months, they have just now said it out loud. This means their passion is gone, their calling is gone and they are done. Getting them out of their role as quickly as possible. In the long run, this is the best thing for them and the ministry. Sticking around for 3-12 months doesn’t do anyone any good. Make a plan, honor them, take care of them and move them on as quickly as possible.
These situations are sticky and they are all different. As a leader, you will walk through this too many times to count. Each one hurts. They are people you’ve invested in, loved, cared for and worked with and watching them leave always feels personal. You either feel like you did something wrong, missed signs, hired the wrong person or were lied to or let down. Grieve the situation. Learn whatever you can and move forward to becoming better and fixing the situation.