7 Suggestions for Pastors When a Good Staff Member Leaves the Church

This post came to me after hanging out with one of my favorite people I’ve ever worked with. I hated when we parted ways professionally.

Let’s be honest, pastors. When you have great staff people, the team is set and everything is going well, it’s hard when someone leaves. Even when they are leaving for a better opportunity – it often stinks.

Replacing quality people is one of the hardest things we do as pastors.

How should you handle a staff member who leaves for other opportunities?

Here a 7 suggestions for my pastor friends:

Think bigger picture. 

You’re a Kingdom builder. You are on a mission. You are called to part of a grander plan – God’s plan – more than you are to one local church. You and every staff member (volunteer and attendee) in your church are simply part of this plan.

Grieve. 

It’s okay. You likely invested a lot personally into the person. You are probably going to miss their friendship – and their work. Whoever replaces them will not be the same. (They may actually be a better fit for the season you are in now.) It will be different either way. Change is hard for the church – and it’s difficult for us too at times. Believers don’t grieve like the rest of the world (1 Thessalonians 4:13), but we do grieve. We grieve with hope always in mind, but grieving is a healthy way to deal with loss. 

Don’t take it personal. 

Most likely it is a reflection of what God was doing in the staff member’s life – and possibly in the life of the church. It may have nothing to do with you. If it is personal then it is a good time to evaluate where and who you are and why someone felt they needed to leave.

See the opportunity in something new. 

I used to have a boss who when someone would threaten to quit he would call them in and have them stick their hand in a bucket of water to see how much the difference one hand made in the level of the water. It didn’t make much. I know, because I once had to do it. I’m not saying it was the gentlest of approaches – and I have never used it personally, but it was certainly humbling. I never forgot it. The point he was making was everyone can be replaced. Everyone. And, sometimes new can even be better. Transitions are difficult, but afterward new can create opportunities for the church you never dreamed of – but God did.

Invest in people. 

Not positions. You have to see your role as a people-builder more than a position builder. It’s great to have the best student ministry in the history of the church. It’s better to have a student minister you believe in and invest in personally who is open, just as you should be, to being wherever God may lead. Rejoice in this with them. (As much as it hurts, this includes the worship pastor, the small groups or discipleship pastor, and the key volunteer leaders in the church.) 

Keep in touch. 

Stay in touch, as much as the other person will allow, in what God is doing in their life in this new season. Chances are you and your leadership were a part of this season also. Rejoice in what God allowed you to be a part of doing in someone else’s journey. 

Celebrate what God is doing new. 

Celebrate the work God is doing in the person’s life who left and what He is doing in the church afterward. Celebrate on the way out for one person and on the way in for another. The more you can celebrate the healthier the environment will be you are trying to lead.

These are just a few suggestions. I’ve been there – and, I’m sure I will be again. Saying goodbye can be difficult. It shouldn’t be devastating if we approach it correctly.

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