When a Minister Leaves: Actions & Reactions

by Grady King

In HOPE Network, it is a privilege to come alongside ministers, elders and churches.  I am grateful people are seeking help and resources.  One of the traits of a healthy marriage or family is asking for help.  I receive weekly calls from a member of  a preacher search team. I do not know most of those who call and it goes something like this.

“Hello, my name is __________. I am with the minister search team at our congregation and we are looking for a new preaching minister.  You have been recommended to us as someone who can help.”  After a few minutes of getting to know each other I ask a few questions. Here’s the first one.

…time for emotional recovery is indispensable to the health of the church and welcoming the new minister.

“What happened to your last preaching minister?”  How long was he there?  Was leaving his choice or was he “let go?” For what reason?  How is this impacting the church? After several minutes of throwing darts at a moving target comes the infamous, “We’re just ready to move ahead.” Many times, I know the situation, or even the “last preacher.” I often asked, “Did he leave well?”  More times than not the answer is vague and explained in cautious ways. In the end a simple, “No, he did not would suffice.”  Generally, culpability is both with the preacher and the elder group. What is sad is when an elder group is influenced by a vocal minority that prompts the dismissal. This lack of courage takes a great toll on the church far greater than any new minister  can overcome quickly.  Since humans are not robots–mere machines who can simply be re-programmed, time for emotional recovery is indispensable to the health of the church and welcoming the new minister. This is why interim ministry is so helpful (go to interimministrypartners.com to learn more).

The general rule of thumb is one year, one month. Meaning, if the preacher has been with a congregation for seven years, it will take at least seven months to find a new preacher. If he was “let go” (fired) and there is unsettled angst in the church, it will take longer–and should.  To rush into “getting a preacher” is a huge mistake.  Churches, like families need time to grieve. It is not unusual for people who did not even really like the last preacher to be upset when he is gone. At least they knew what to expect. Change is hard, even good change.  Time to process grief in all it’s various forms–disappointment, sadness, fear and even displaced anger is essential. Otherwise, the next preacher will simply inherit unresolved grief.  Sadly, churches often react about the deficiencies of the last preacher and seek to hire the opposite.  And so the pendulum swings and the church (or at least part of it) is temporarily appeased.

To rush into “getting a preacher” is a huge mistake. Churches, like families need time to grieve.

Here are a few things that may be helpful in times of transition.  The most important principle is this–
If you don’t know who you are as a church, you don’t know the minister you need.
It’s about clarity of identity. It’s about God’s call.

  1. Engage the outgoing minister with the good things he and his family have done.
  2. Give him and his family time to say “goodbye”–don’t isolate and force him to vacate too quickly.
  3. Let the dust settle in the church before forming a search team that simply is reactive.
  4. People who preach in the interim need to be mature, level headed, non-anxious people.
  5. Ideally, a consistent presence in the pulpit is more valuable than rotating “good men” over time.
  6. Take your time to design an intentional process, communicate it and stick with it.
  7. Don’t get in a hurry–the church can be church without “the preacher” for a season.

Glad to visit about all of this. Doing it well matters!

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