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.
All churches are volunteer based. This makes leadership in a church different from other organizations and comes with its challenges and joys, like all leadership.
Something all churches always need is more leaders and volunteers. Ask any student or children pastor and they will tell you they need more people. Small group pastors are always looking for leaders and hosts, same with worship pastors. But how do you figure out who to ask? Obviously, you need to determine someone’s fit for the team, their character and spiritual maturity (this matters more depending on the role). I
f it comes down to a few people, ask the busiest person. There is a reason someone is not busy and someone else is. When hiring someone, remember, there is a reason someone is unemployed and available. Busy people have outside lives, they are in high demand. Busy people get things done.
Now, you may wonder, but won’t they burnout? Why not ask the person who isn’t busy? I have learned that sometimes, people aren’t busy because they are lazy and sometimes they aren’t busy because they have chosen not to be. As far as burnout goes, you need to be aware of what someone can handle and if they have time for it.
I have learned this though, high capacity people are in high demand in all aspects of their lives. Low capacity people are not. When looking at a potential leader, ask, are they leading in other areas of their lives? Are they in high demand at work, in other organizations? Are others seeking them out as leaders? If not, there is a reason.
Last night we had our volunteer appreciation dinner. What a night.
The theme of the night was “You Rock.” We (as the staff team) even sang a song with the same title about what our volunteers do and mean to us as a team. When we say they are the backbone of what we do and that what we do as Revolution would not happen without them, those are not just words. Here is the video of the song:
The goal of the night was to say thank you but to also remind everyone that we couldn’t do Revolution without them, that it would fall apart. We showed that with dinner. We grilled chicken that wasn’t done on time (in fact it wasn’t ready until almost 45 minutes late, not on purpose). When everyone arrived, I had over 10 people ask me what they could do to help. We even had to tell people to stop working and enjoy the night. Love that attitude.
It is humbling to me that guys show up at 7am to set up signs on the side of the road so that people can find out about our church and find their way, that people show up at 2pm to start setting up for the band, kids areas, signs, prepping food and drinks, that teachers prep during the week and then show up to love on our kids and teach them the gospel, that people sit in booth running lights, sound and computers, that greeters make people feel welcome, the list goes on and on. Then, they tear it all down after we are done and they do it week in and week out without complaining, always bringing their A game all so we can help people find their way back to God.
As I stood in front of our volunteers last night, I was struck by a thought. There were 4 times as many people in the room last night as compared to when we started the church. It is amazing to see what God has done and the people who have bought in, the time and effort they pour in to make Revolution happen every week. I cannot say thank you enough.
This past weekend, Katie and I had dinner with a couple who started coming to Revolution recently. In the course of the conversation, the husband asked me, “It seems like everyone is really excited, bought in and passionate about what is happening at Revolution. How did that happen? Was that an accident or did you try that?”
It does not just happen. Some of it can be just the blessing of God, but for excitement to happen, for people to sacrifice to fulfill a mission, it takes work and it needs to be consistent. If it did just happen, it would happen everywhere.
Now, this does not mean that Revolution does not have any holes when it comes to volunteers. We can always use more people to step in and help pull the rope in the direction we’re going. But there are some things that we have done that have enabled us to get a lot of high capacity people plugged in:
Clarity is huge. Clarity in roles and what someone will do, but also clarity in vision. This cannot be stated boldly enough. For too many churches, no one knows what the win is. No one knows what they are trying to do, why they exist, who they are trying to reach. It is very blurry.
People who give up their time, need to know that it is worth it. While some people will volunteer in a role that might keep a ship from sinking, most high capacity people do not want to get into a boat they feel is going down.
I think one thing many pastors miss is passion. Because they don’t have it, they aren’t able to pass it on to the rest of their church. If you aren’t excited about your church and what God is doing and what you are asking God to do, then you shouldn’t be leading there. God does not call pastors to take up space.
While there are many reasons people jump into churches and get involved, I think this list gets at the heart of why people have jumped in and made Revolution happen. We have the greatest volunteers I’ve ever been around. They serve graciously, endlessly, sacrificially and they do so passionately.