After 15 years in our congregation, my senior pastor is leaving to take a new call.
Since my senior pastor announced his departure, I’ve become acutely aware of the role that I, as a staff member, have to play in this transition. Just as there are many things that I can do to support my congregation during this season of change, I’m also quickly learning there are some things that should be avoided. Here are seven things you shouldn’t do during seasons of change:
- Don’t share what’s not yours to say. During times of transition, questions surface. As a staff member, you’re sometimes privy to information that others don’t have. Don’t repeat something unless you know for sure it’s okay to do so. Respect and honor things that are explicitly or implicitly told to you in confidence. Let your leadership and staff know you can be trusted to maintain confidentiality.
- Don’t share too much. As anyone who works for the church knows, the church’s rumor mills are robust. Once you say something, others will hear it. It’s then impossible to take it back. When a colleague leaves, you will feel a variety of emotions: Heartbreak, disappointment, relief, grief, sadness, bitterness, and resentment just to name a few. Sometimes you may even feel them all at once. It’s important for you to find someone outside your congregation to process these emotions with so that you can safely help those in your congregation process theirs, without inserting your own into the mix.
- Don’t talk trash about the person leaving. Just because they’re on their way out doesn’t mean it’s time to let loose with every gripe or criticism you’ve ever had with them. Instead of tearing the departing person down, commit to making your last few weeks together affirming. Celebrate that person’s ministry – past, present, and future.
- Don’t make the person who’s leaving a scapegoat. If you’re tempted to start a sentence with “Now that so & so’s gone, we can…” just stop. The person who’s leaving is NOT responsible for all that ails your congregation. Your church’s problems will not magically disappear with that person and you’ll do your congregation a disservice by suggesting they will.
- Don’t rush the process. If you’re on staff at a church, there’s a good chance you’ll know about impending transitions before others in your congregation. While this can be good and helpful, it can also make it tempting to try to rush into what’s next before you’ve given people adequate time to lament and grieve.
- Don’t change too much too quickly. When a staff member leaves, it can be tempting to make immediate changes. Don’t. Your congregation will want (and need) stability. Changing too much too quickly can cause people to feel as though they can no longer depend on your congregation to be an anchor in the storm.
- Don’t speculate. Figure out who reliable streams of information come from. Then get in them so that you can share accurate information and timelines. Admit what you don’t know rather than making stuff up.
By staying clear of these 7 don’t’s, you can support your congregation as well as whoever is leaving during seasons of change.