Preventing Leadership Suicide:

we never saw it coming!

I hereby resign as a…of this congregation — effective immediately! There may be a nod of the head, his wife rises, and they exit the back door. Or a gasp when even his wife didn’t know it was coming. I’ve observed or heard of it happening from elders, deacons, and preachers. Without discussion or planning, an angry or discouraged leader expresses his frustration by leaving without warning.

There’s damage to those left behind after a suicide.

  1. Shock. (What’s going on in this person’s life and/or with our relationship?)
  2. Grief. (How will we make it without this person’s leadership? I don’t know if we can go on without him.)
  3. Guilt. (I wonder if he did that because of something I said or did?)
  4. Anger. (How could he do that? He took the easy way out. He left in the middle of problems he helped create.)
  5. Deterioration of trust in the remaining leaders. (If he did this when I didn’t see it coming, who will be next?)
There’s damage to those left behind after a suicide. Click To Tweet

When you know you have a terminal illness, it is kind, loving, and helpful to discuss your departure with those close to you. Observe Jesus:

From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day (Matthew 16:21, NKJV).

Jesus repeated this statement over and over and over. Even though there was a lack of faith and desertion of His disciples, Jesus didn’t disappear back to heaven saying, “Now they’ll miss me when I’m gone.”

In contrast, He continued to prepare His followers for His departure and provide for their strength and encouragement after He left.

I recommend that leaders have a “no suicide contract.” Each leader commits to a three-month notification of his departure to permit and encourage —

  1. Grief at his leaving.
  2. Reassignment of his responsibilities.
  3. Time for a reconciliation of any “old business” left in the relationship.

Exceptions for giving notice would be a fatal heart attack or dying in a head-on collision. It’s not loving to those left behind to exit without notification. Even in a secular job an honorable employee gives a two-week notice.

In one congregation where I served for more than a decade, we had a weekend workshop to discuss my departure. We talked about why I was leaving, when to make the announcement, and ways we could make a smooth transition.

God’s people deserve better than a frustrated leader relieving his stress by shocking the sheep.

The probability of that happening is lessened by mature Christian leaders discussing what would be best for the church before pressure mounts that might prompt this action.

I recommend that leaders have a “no suicide contract. Click To Tweet

What has your leadership group done to prevent “leadership suicide”?
Please comment below.

3 Principles for Helping Others When You Don’t Know How

we’ll never know all we need to do or say

A couple came in when one had just learned the other was having an affair. We talked, cried, and wondered if there was any hope for this marriage.

As we continued to talk, I realized they needed someone with more expertise than me.

After talking and listening for an hour or two, I gave my recommendation. I told them, “I’m a pretty good country doctor but I think you need heart surgery on your marriage. I’m not a cardiologist. I’m going to do what any good doctor would do. I’m referring you to a counselor I use and to whom I have referred many people.” I gave them Phil Pistole’s phone number.

After that, I thought of the analogy I’d used. When my father had bypass surgery, his general practitioner checked on him often while he was recovering from heart surgery. He wasn’t trained in cardiac surgery but he cared about my father.

Why shouldn’t I do the same thing with this couple? I told them I’d be checking with them during their counseling. I made “house calls” once a month during their time of recovery from this trauma.

Here are some things I learned from that experience that’s been a model for me.

  1. Realize I’ll never have all the answers to all the problems people have. This shouldn’t be hard to admit. No doctor knows about every illness. When he encounters a condition he doesn’t understand, he refers his patient to a specialist. For serious cases, he may suggest getting a second opinion.
  2. Continue to compile a list of people who can help me and others in all areas: Bible knowledge, physical challenges, emotional difficulties, financial advice, family issues with husbands, wives, children, in-laws, addictions, etc. I may need to ask for time to think and research someone who will help. Make a good referral to someone with proven expertise. Provide the phone number. Generally, it’s good for the person needing help to make the call. Give directions to the person and how much he or she charges. State how much help you or the church will provide if needed.
  3. Follow up, working with everyone involved. Make regular contact with your people. Pray for them, with them, and in private. Even though I don’t know how to deal with this issue, I still care and need to continue to communicate that to my friends.

I shouldn’t be ashamed to admit, “I don’t know.” The first beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, NKJV). [tweetthis]I’ll never have all the answers to all the problems people have.[/tweetthis]

The combination of not knowing, helping someone find someone who can help, and continued concern is a good demonstration of compassion.

What have you done to help people when you didn’t know what to do?
Please comment below.