Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change–this is the rhythm of living. Out of our over-confidence, fear; Out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And, out of hope, progress! -Bruce Barton-
The loss of a pulpit minister almost always triggers feelings of uncertainty, doubt, insecurity, and anxiety in members of a church. It doesn’t matter why a preacher leaves: retirement, firing, accepting a new position in another congregation, internal conflict, and/or pastoral fatigue. The result for members is stress, discomfort, and niggling questions.
One of the prime responsibilities of church leaders at such times is to manage ministerial change in healthy, positive ways. One of the prime challenges for church leaders is to “reframe” the change so that church members are excited about the opportunities ahead rather than focused on their anxieties for the future.
Reframing the Future
Anyone connected with church for very long has experienced that heart-dropping, suddenly-silent moment in an assembly when a preacher or elder stands before the congregation with a sheet of paper in his hand and announces, “I have a statement to read.” It is almost certainly bad news. It is almost always news that will impact the congregation and its future.
Members steel themselves for a wash of emotions: hurt, rejection, anger, disappointment, sadness, grief. These emotions flow out of the particulars of the situation: a member’s feelings about the minister . . . the reasons given for why he is stepping down.
But there are other emotions that bubble up from more general concerns: What does this say about our church? Can I trust these leaders? Who will preach next Sunday? Is the direction and character of our church about to shift? Where will we be a year from now? When everything settles down, will this still be a church I like?
Wise church leaders can address these concerns by providing members with a map to the future even as they announce changes in the present. They can indicate what church members should expect next week, next month, and next year. They can present a plan for the interim season. They can offer to bring in outside expertise.
But, mostly, wise church leaders can reframe the way members view the interim season.
A little anxiety and apprehension are unavoidable. Without wise leadership, however, church members have a tendency to focus on these anxieties and give undue weight to their fears. They have difficulty seeing the “upside.”
Leaders can reframe the transition experience. Not in one announcement. Not without care and effort. But thoughtful, consistent, persistent leadership can shift a church’s focus to the benefits and blessings of an interim season.