Monday, June 3, 2013

Congregational Reactions to When a Pastor Leaves

In my previous blog, I outlined the various phases we pastors go through when we leave a church. However in this blog, I outline several reactions that take place when they first hear the news that their pastor is leaving.
REACTION #1: SHOCK AND CONFUSION: Some people are in utter shock and become confused when a pastor announces that he/she is leaving. They wonder what the church will do next and are concerned that the church will not be able to survive without the pastor. It is helpful during this time for the departing pastor to preach and teach from the Scriptures that God is in control. I often use such Scriptures such as I Corinthians 3 and the Exodus-Joshua accounts to show how God raises up different leaders at different times and that God still leads.
REACTION #2: NOT SURPRISED/ACCEPTING: Many people have had a suspicion that the pastor was about to leave and may have very little reaction to the news. There may a number of reasons for this “non-response.” First of all, they may have been long-term members and have been through this before and figured it would happen again, sooner or later. The church may have had a history of pastors leaving every few years and some members almost expect a change. Others recognize that God can call pastors to a church and call them away. When I broke the news to my leaders, while there were different reactions, a number of them realized that God was leading me in a new direction and were able to accept the decision to a certain degree.
REACTION #3: GOOD RIDDANCE: In the Wizard of Oz, the Munchkins sing a joyful song, “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!” and are happy she is gone. Particularly in church situations in which there is a huge conflict between the pastor and congregation, there is a similar rejoicing when the pastor decides to leave. However, even in the best situations, there may be individuals who are glad when the pastor leaves. Sometimes they might be people who have left the church because they did not like the pastor but will return when he/she is gone.
REACTION #4: ANGER AND THE SENSE OF BETRAYAL: Although similar to reaction #1, this reaction takes it a step further and are very vocal in expressing their disapproval and outrage at the pastor’s announcement. The truth is that such a person will take the pastor’s announcement personally and can even take on the role of a victim with the idea that the pastor has done this to them on purpose. They will sometimes resort to guilt and manipulation to attempt to make the pastor feel miserable or guilty. Sometimes the anger is directed toward the church (rightly or wrongly) for forcing the pastor out even if that weren’t the case. It is not unusual for these persons to drop out of church especially if they think by doing so is their way of getting even..
REACTION #5: STEP UP TO THE PLATE: Although it has some similarities to reaction #2, some people (even those who weren’t necessarily involved previously in the leadership of the church) rise up to the occasion and take responsibility to carry on the church’s mission. They realize that now is not the time to back down or to take a back seat. In the midst of a huge change in the life of the church, they know that the church needs them more than ever and that there is kingdom work to be done.
REACTION #6: WITHDRAW: Combined with reaction #1 and #4, this reaction is just the opposite to the previous reaction. Some people drop out of church all together or if they continue to attend, they will step down from any ministry positions that they were active in under the departing pastor. Sometimes people drop out when they did not like the departing pastor ( see reaction #3) but the congregation, as a whole, loved the pastor. Some also drop out because they are burned out from serving but did not previously do so out of loyalty to the departing pastor.
Whenever a pastor leaves, there will be a number of reactions from the congregation. It is not unusual that one or two of these reactions will be the dominant one in any given congregation. If a pastor has had a long and fruitful ministry, reaction #3 in which people are glad to see the pastor leave may be relatively few. Yet, it is not unusual to see most (if not all) of these reactions in any congregation and a wise pastor is aware of these different reactions and is able to offer pastoral guidance. Whenever a pastor leaves is a major change for both the pastor and the congregation and necessitates the need to hear God’s compassionate voice during the process.

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