About once a month, I am contacted by a person serving on a church staff voicing a similar concern. The pastor has retired, resigned, or been fired. A new pastor will be coming at some point in the future. Life has changed for the staff member with one announcement by the pastor. As an executive pastor recently asked me, “Where do I go from here?”
The question is legitimate. Many church members do not fully grasp how disruptive a pastor’s departure is to the remaining staff. The staff are left behind, even if it’s not in an eschatological sense. Look at some of the possible consequences for church staff.
- The staff member and his or her family’s life is disrupted. This consequence is almost universal. It is not just the staff member. The family is uncertain where the next job, town, school, or income will be.
- The staff member may be terminated. It is not that common anymore, but some churches “clean house” so the next pastor can choose the staff. Some ask for a written letter of resignation that can be accepted or rejected by the next pastor.
- Those closest to the pastor are most vulnerable. It can be rewarding for a staff member to have a close working relationship with the pastor . . . until the pastor leaves. The closest staff members have their ministry identity tied closely to the exiting pastor. And that can be a threat if the next pastor is uncertain where loyalties lie.
- The on-boarding of the new pastor is fraught with tension for the staff members. They, in many aspects, have to prove themselves worthy to the new pastor. “I felt like I was having to prove my value for over six months,” a student pastor told us.
- The staff have to adjust to a new culture even if they are allowed to stay. Of course, this adjustment applies to the entire congregation, but the staff members live in that culture every day of the week. The adjustment can be uncomfortable and tense.
- The staff members may have to live in two worlds for a season. They may stay at the church, but they have to keep their eyes and ears open for new jobs and ministry opportunities. And they remain in both worlds until they leave or have a high level of security with the new pastor.
- Some staff members may have to change their job responsibilities significantly. Even if they do get to stay, it is not unusual for the new pastor to change ministry responsibilities. Some of the changes can be dramatic, so much so that the staff member may have a totally different job.
I don’t expect to change the reality of these challenges with this article. It is my prayer, however, that this post will provide a greater awareness of the issues with the congregation. And it is my prayer that church members will have greater compassion and concern for the church staff members as a result of their heightened awareness.
After all, church staff are people too.