Who Is Your Counselor?

where do you turn when you don’t know what to do? who do you ask when you’d like to do better?

When an issue comes up in your family and you need help, where do you turn? What do you do when you’re talking with someone who has a problem and you have no idea how to advise? When an incident occurs that needs action, but you’ve never encountered anything like it, who helps you consider possible solutions?

Before I met James Jones in 1982, I was often lost. I’d never discussed personal or church issues with a counselor. See blog post, 3 Ways I Helped Get Myself Fired. At first, I didn’t want to start. The first day he was in our building, he asked me to have lunch with him. I was reluctant, but agreed to go. I didn’t want him to “figure me out.” I was scared of him.

But as we talked more, I began to realize he had knowledge and skills that could be helpful to me, my family, and the church.

Our elders had entered into an agreement with him to rent our library at the Central Church of Christ in Dalton, Georgia, for five hours free counseling per month to be used at the discretion of the elders. He began to serve in several areas.

  • Counseling with established clients. He already had people in the North Georgia-Chattanooga area who talked with him often.
  • Referrals. After I learned to trust him, I referred members who came to me who needed more help than I was prepared to give. Some would say, “I’ve never talked to a counselor. I’m afraid. Would you go with me?”. I was glad to do that for a session or two, learning much from watching and listening.
  • Elder-preacher meetings. The elders, Cordell Holloway, Ross Jordan, and I had standing appointments for the first and third Mondays at 7:00 a.m. We worked on our communication. I began to talk to elders on an adult to adult basis instead of child to adult. We discussed difficult issues. I referred to one of those sessions in a previous blog post: Church Discipline: Tell It to the Church. We never ran out of topics to discuss. It was a growing and enriching experience for me.
  • Classes. In the fall after he started working in our building, he taught classes on Monday nights. We had two hours of lecture followed by an hour of group discussion. We practiced what we’d been learning from reading assigned books and hearing the lectures James presented. Some of the classes were:

..Dealing with Grief.
..How to Handle Conflict in the Church.
..Counseling Principles for Christian Leaders.

  • Individual and family counseling for my family and me. As our trust and appreciation grew for James and his work, there were many opportunities to meet with him and listen to his advice. As our children grew older, there were always new things we’d never faced. We talked with a church in Texas during the summer of 1984 about moving to work with them. We talked with James individually and as a family to consider the advantages and disadvantages of that opportunity. James and I went to the church, talking with the elders and staff for two days. When I moved from Dalton to Nashville in 1988, James consulted with me, my family, and the elders during the process. We discussed what would be good for the church and our family—when to announce and how to do a good job leaving.
  • Phone counseling. After I moved to Nashville and later to Berry’s Chapel in Franklin, Tennessee, I continued to consult with James by phone and workshops he conducted at Berry’s Chapel until he died, July 2, 1995.

After his death, I became acquainted with Phil Pistole in Brentwood, Tennessee. During my time at Berry’s Chapel, I met with him once a month. I kept my Phil List of things to discuss at our monthly meetings: personal and family issues, church problems where I needed help, coaching on counseling opportunities I was working on, and family-business relationships.

Suggestions for Selecting and Working with a Counselor

  1. Select carefully. Talk with people who’ve worked with the counselor you’re considering. Interview the person to discover his experience in dealing with issues you and your church may encounter. Ask who he goes to for counseling and how often.  If your counselor doesn’t have a counselor, you may end up being your counselor’s counselor. Click To Tweet That’s not the way it’s supposed to work.
  2. Understand the value. Just as it’s good to have a family physician before you have a health crisis, it’s good to have a counselor who understands you and your group before major problems arise. He knows more of what he’s working with.
  3. Referrals are easier when I’ve been to the counselor. People are often embarrassed when they finally admit they need help. I’ve found it takes pressure off when someone asks me if I can recommend a counselor and I reply, “I’ve been talking with Phil Pistole for several years. He’s helped me and many others I’ve referred to him.”
  4. Recognize the limits of his responsibility. A counselor is not your boss or supervisor. You don’t have to do everything a counselor suggests. What you do is your choice.
A good counselor can often inform and remind me of more choices than I was aware I had. Click To Tweet

What suggestions and experience have you had in working with Christian counselors?

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Culturally Diverse Church in Raleigh, North Carolina

7th New Shepherds Orientation Workshop

We had a hard working group for the 7th New Shepherds Orientation Workshop. It was a beautiful drive around the Northern border of the Smokies the weekend of August 25-27. This is one of the most culturally diverse congregations I’ve visited. The Spanish and English worship together. Their website is in both English and Spanish. They have members from other nationalities as well. I asked one of the elders the different backgrounds of the members at Raleigh. He replied, “Honduras, El Salvador,  Ghana,  Nigeria.  And there’s even a Californian…now they are something else.”

This congregation is about fifteen years old and has recently appointed new shepherds. These men, their wives, the preacher, and his wife had done their homework. They were ready to discuss ways to be more effective in the Lord’s work.

As a result of suggestions at a previous workshop in Puyallup, Washington, we had more time for small groups to interact.

The men’s and women’s groups worked separately on a real situation in a real church and made observations and suggestions of how to improve the interaction of elders and their flock.

I gave the men an issue of someone wanting to modify the elders’ plan to do mission work when a brother with money had rather build an educational annex.

The ladies discussed issues that come with being the wife of an elder. This was especially helpful to the wives of the new elders.

We concluded Sunday morning with the Bible class, Leadership is a Gift, Not a Grind. During the worship, I discussed what Paul talked about and what they did at his last elders’ meeting with the overseers of the Ephesian church. Each elder shared a “mustard seed” he had learned during the workshop.

The elders, preachers, and wives of the Raleigh church: Bill and Beth Culverhouse, Elisha and Anne Marie Freeman, Glenn and Fran Holland, Allan and Barbara Johnson, Bob and Margaret Platt, Mac and Pamela Safley, and Scott and Carol Wollens.

Discussion Topics

  • What are guidelines to help us have a better discussion and workshop?
  • How can elders shepherd each other?
  • How will we grow together as a group?
  • How will we handle criticism?
  • What is a good plan to be sure we are adequately caring for all the sheep?
  • How can we deal with deacons and encourage them?
  • How will we develop as overseers as well as shepherds?
  • How will we oversee each other?
  • What can we do to keep important things from falling through the cracks?
  • Will we function as deacons and be called elders?
  • How can we prevent the development of a toxic “head elder”?
  • What is one thing we can do to prevent conflict and promote peace?
  • How will we evaluate the deacons, the ministers, and each other?
  • What are some ways we can have good communication with the congregation?
  • What are different kinds of meetings we should have to lead this church?
  • Who should select additional leaders in this congregation?
  • What is a good way to facilitate selection?

Workshop Characteristics

  • Include all shepherds, preachers, and wives.
  • Meet offsite — away from the building.
  • Include twelve hours of working time.

The Usual Schedule

Friday — 6:00-10:00 p.m.
Saturday — 8:00-12:00 a.m.; 1:00-5:00 p.m.
Bible class: When Leadership Is a Gift Instead of a Grind
Sermon at worship: What Do You Say at Your Last Elders’ Meeting?

Dates I have available today for 2018: a weekend (Friday night, Saturday, Sunday morning) in April, May, September, October, November.

What questions or observations do you have about the New Shepherds Orientation Workshop?

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“Bless Our _______ as They Make Their Decisions”

…the ones they know they're making and the ones they don’t

One of the frequent petitions I hear about elders in public prayers is, “Lord, bless our elders as they make their decisions.” I often cringe when I hear that. What about, “Bless our elders as they shepherd the flock; bless our elders as they set examples of excellence, dedication, service, and holiness; bless our elders as they discern and lead this church in a heavenly direction”?

But when you think about it, decisions our elders make are crucial. Not ones about whether to build or not to build, the color of the carpet, settings on thermostats (I think one of the qualifications of an elder should be he doesn’t know how to operate a thermostat), or the type and size of lawnmowers for church grass.


Some Decisions Elders Make Every Day

  • To shepherd or do the work of a deacon. I hear many excuses about why elders are still doing the work of deacons years after they were appointed to shepherd the flock and know better. The reason is everybody (elders, deacons, and members) likes it the way it is better than what it would take to change it.
Everybody (elders, deacons, and members) likes it the way it is better than what it would take to change it. Click To Tweet
  • To do the work of ministry or also equip others to do the work of ministry. Paul taught evangelists, pastors, and teachers to equip saints for the work of ministry — not do all the work themselves. (Ephesians 4:11-13).
  •  To mentor and train leaders or hope some show up when we need them. It’s too late to be alarmed over a lack of qualified men to lead two weeks before the day to appoint new elders and deacons. I believe each congregation has leaders they want, leaders they prayed for, leaders they trained. What planned development are you doing for elders and deacons now? What have you done in the last two years?
Each congregation has leaders they want, leaders they prayed for, leaders they trained. Click To Tweet
  • To deal with difficult situations or ignore them. The Holy Spirit makes shepherds who will work with sheep. Sheep, by nature, are dependent, dirty, and disoriented. Sheep get in messy situations. Shepherds can continue to meet about the budget and complain how bad the world and brethren are or get into their spiritual ambulances and pick up the sheep who’ve wrecked on life’s highway. One is more comfortable for the moment. The other is the job description of a shepherd.

Others Who Are Making Important Decisions
“Bless our ______ as they make their decisions”

  1. Deacons decide if they’ll serve with excellence bringing glory to God or just take up space on the church bulletin — to do all the work they’ve been given or develop others in the work of ministry.
  2. Preachers decide if they’ll preach the truth with enthusiasm and conviction or look up a good sermon on the internet Saturday night and read it on Sunday morning. They decide by pain and hard work to develop a Christ-like attitude or do what comes naturally, which is often offensive.
  3. Parents decide if they’ll prayerfully put the priority on raising their children in the way of the Lord by example, teaching, and training or decide to make them popular and pleasing to the world of sports and entertainment.
  4. Young people are making decisions about serving God, their occupations, marriage, and morals. In the next ten years, decisions of our teens will probably have a greater impact on the church in the next fifty years than decisions of our elders.
  5. Bible teachers decide if they’ll prepare their lessons well, live a good life, be a worthy example, and be interested in teaching individuals not just filling time for forty-five minutes.
  6. Every Christian decides if his or her emphasis concerning God is to be faithful, prayerful, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, or if a little religion is good for a well-rounded life.
  7. We all decide, either on purpose or by default, how we relate to fellow Christians in encouragement, happiness, sorrow, and conflict.


Who do you want God to “bless as they make their decisions”?

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Releasing Your Preacher and Quickly Replacing Him

how often do you want to enjoy a preacher search?

A few months ago, within a short time, I received two emails from good elder friends. One had, and the other was about to release his preacher and start the selection process. Each asked for men to contact for their next preacher. Here’s the email I sent:


  1. When will your preacher be informed of his dismissal?
  2. Will Sunday be his goodbye sermon?
  3. Have you considered that quickly getting a new preacher gives you a high probability of having an unintentional interim?

Here’s what I’ve observed in fifty-five years of ministry, by following a long-tenured preacher, and working with congregations in intentional interim ministry for nine years:

The general rule is after a long ministry (five years or more) a church will have an interim minister — either an intentional or unintentional minister. The next preacher will stay a short time. If he is an unintentional interim (he thought he was coming for a settled ministry), it will be a time of misery. He’ll be compared to the previous preacher. He’ll not be like the previous preacher. It’ll be an impossible job description.

I’ve served both as an intentional and an unintentional interim. I can assure you intentional is much preferred. The five most depressing years of my fifty-five years of preaching were following a preacher who stayed a long time and was released by the elders — not to his desire and a large part of the congregation. The congregation was stuck in grief, confusion, and resentment. I bore the brunt of something I had nothing to do with except I happened to be the next preacher. It’s now worth it. I had an opportunity to experience what I’d read in books about being a preacher following a long ministry. But the pain was real and sustained while I was learning the lesson.

People are often concerned about the widow or widower who starts dating after the sudden death of a spouse. People aren’t machines.
[tweetthis]For a good new relationship, there needs to be a time of grieving over the past relationship.[/tweetthis]

See two blog posts relating to the interim concept:

  1. How Long Will it Take?
  2. How Can We Improve Without Changing?

The rule of thumb is there should be one month of interim ministry for each year of ministry of the previous preacher.

My advice for preacher friends who follow a long-term preacher with no intentional interim period: “You need to understand part of your job description is being unfavorably compared to the previous preacher in preaching, teaching, dress, visitation, name memory, and the way he related to people. It’ll be done repeatedly for ten years. If you can endure that for ten years, it’ll get slightly better during the next five years.”

There are exceptions to the rule. But from my experience, it’s the rule:

[tweetthis]The preacher who quickly follows a long-term preacher will have a short and painful tenure.[/tweetthis]

One of my most productive interims in the past nine years was with a congregation who tried the immediate replacement plan with two preachers following the retirement of their long-term preacher. After much pain, and a split, they decided an interim was worth the time and money. I worked with them twenty-three months. They now have a good preacher. They are at peace and reaching their community.

When you get ready to look for a preacher, Don Viar has the best material I’ve read on the preacher search. Note this post on his website: Sometimes an Interim Is Better Than a Hire.

Don has other resources that can be helpful: www.ministermatch.com.

When you get ready for the search, his book has a good plan: The Search Committee Handbook.

Please pray, think, and look at options before you immediately do what you’ve always done.

Here’s more information on the interim concept and process: Between Preachers Blog.

What have you found helpful during a preacher transition?

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Have You Been to an Eldership Funeral?

death precedes resurrection

We were anticipating more leadership in the congregation. In a few weeks, we looked forward to completing the selection process, and appointing a new shepherd or two. I asked the elders if they were planning an eldership funeral. They hadn’t thought about that.

I explained. It was my observation that often when new elders are appointed, you don’t get new elders. You get junior elders, trainees. They’re expected to do everything just as it’s always been done. If there’s conflict in the eldership, the new men will be recruited to be on each side.

[tweetthis]Often when new elders are appointed, you don’t get new elders. You get junior elders, trainees.[/tweetthis]

Also, when new elders are appointed, there aren’t just new elders, there is a new eldership. If you have a beaker with a chemical in it, and you place one drop of another chemical in it, you don’t just have another drop of stuff, you have a new compound.

[tweetthis]When new elders are appointed, there aren’t just new elders, there is a new eldership.[/tweetthis]

Any time there’s a change in a leadership group (one or more leave, one or more are added, one or more have a significant change in family, job, or health status), you have a new leadership group.

I thought it would be good to acknowledge that, learn from it, and start with a new group. It was one of those ideas I gave for consideration not knowing if it would be considered or delegated to the waste basket.

The next month, the elders said, “We’ve discussed the eldership funeral. We want to have one and we want you to preach it.”

People often ask, “What do you do at an eldership funeral?” — same thing you do at other funerals: stand around the casket, talk about the deceased, recall their good traits, and talk about how we’ll make it without them.

We went to a log cabin in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, on a Friday night, and had a three-hour funeral.

After going over Guidelines for a Good Discussion, which you can have in an eBook by subscribing to this blog (Subscribe), we began the funeral.

This was a parable of what was happening to the present eldership. Everything Jesus taught was in parables (Mark 4:33, 34). If you don’t like a preacher or teacher who tells stories, you don’t like Jesus because “He did not tell them anything without using stories” (Mark 4:34, CEV). We noted and discussed Paul’s emphasis on the gospel — death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 2:2, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). We wanted to follow Jesus’ example of preparing His disciples for His death (Matthew 16:21-26). We observed the advantage of funerals. Solomon said it’s better to go to a funeral than to go to a party (Ecclesiastes 7:1-10). We read funeral passages. A Word and PDF document of the outline are available:

Eldership Funeral PDF

Eldership Funeral Word

We recalled the history of this group of leaders. They became shepherds during a difficult time in the history of the congregation. Not one of them had ever served as an overseer. Every situation was new to them. They were dealing with a congregation hurt and unsettled because of sustained conflict. They had led well. The conflict had subsided. There was peace. Read about the process: Starting from Scratch.

We “stood around the casket” and talked about this eldership, recalling early fears, discussing how they became a team, and how they were as a group. If a group of elders has unfinished business, it will be transferred to the new elders being appointed.

Our attention turned to the additional leadership soon to be appointed. How would they be integrated? Would they be told the rules? Often a group’s rules are unconscious, unspoken, but understood. We don’t think about them, don’t discuss them, but if you break them, you are in serious trouble! As they considered this, they said, “They can change some rules, but some they can’t.” The came up with two lists of rules: negotiable and non-negotiable. Read about this: Shepherds, What Are your Rules?

I enjoyed the night. We celebrated how God had worked with these men during a difficult time The church had grown and matured. They had survived the storm and were enjoying the sunshine.

Our next topics:

  • What hopes and dreams do you have?
  • How will you communicate these to each other, to the new elders, and to the congregation?

We concluded with the Five Tasks of Dying — how to end any relationship:

  1. Forgive me.
  2. I forgive you.
  3. I love you.
  4. Thank you.
  5. Good-bye.

I’ve “preached the funeral” of four elderships where I’ve worked, including one interim congregation, and officiated at one funeral at the beginning of a New Shepherds Orientation Workshop. I think it’s healthy to discuss these issues.

Many people get excited over resurrection. Fewer want to volunteer for crucifixion. However, death precedes resurrection.

[tweetthis]Many people get excited over resurrection. Fewer want to volunteer for crucifixion.[/tweetthis]

For copies of the outline, click the links:

Eldership Funeral PDF

Eldership Funeral Word

What have you observed in a good transition when new leadership comes into a group?
Please comment below:

When a Preacher Fires the Church

what a preacher who is leaving can do to make a good transition

I talk to many preachers who’ve been relieved of their preaching responsibilities. From their experience and mine (The Best Day to Fire Your Preacher; 3 Ways I Helped Get Myself Fired), I know it’s a painful time. I remember the loneliness and helplessness of that experience. I’ve stayed in contact with friends for several months as they’ve worked through their transitions.  Many preachers feel they’ve been treated unfairly and unchristian. I think that’s possible.


However, I encourage preachers to apply Matthew 7:12, the Golden Rule, when they fire the congregation. When a preacher leaves to go to another church, he fires the church. The preacher should have the same sensitivity in dismissing the church as he would like elders to have with him should they decide to let him go.[tweetthis]When a preacher leaves to go to another church, he fires the church.[/tweetthis]

Suggestions for a Preacher Firing the Church

  1. Be truthful but not cruel with elders about why you’re leaving. If you have a better opportunity, more pay, and greater challenges, tell them. If there are circumstances you think are unscriptural or unhealthy, explain in a kind way.
  2. Plan enough time to exit well. I like three months in most situations. The elders and I announced my resignation three years ahead of my departure from Berry’s Chapel. This gave us time for a good transition. Gail and I set aside the last twenty months to visit with each family to say good-bye. The church didn’t lose momentum. They raised $1,000,000.00 to build a new education wing a month after our retirement. We had a good eldership and a loving and supportive congregation. The effectiveness of the church wasn’t dependent on me being the preacher.
  3. Leave with good relationships. I don’t remember where I first read this, but I’ve used it as a template for leaving any individual or group:  Five Tasks of Dying
    1. Forgive me.
    2. I forgive you.
    3. Thank you.
    4. I love you.
    5. Good-bye.
  4. Finish your work. Plan for groups and projects to complete before you leave or have people in place who will continue.
  5. Cooperate with brethren who want to have a going away event and express your appreciation to them. I’ve been surprised at preachers who decline that opportunity. Some say, “I don’t need it. I’m uncomfortable with that. I’d rather just leave when I’m finished.” My reply: it’s not all about you. You may not want it, but others in the church may need a time to formally say, “Good-bye.” Some funeral directors say at death it’s good to have a time of visitation with the body present and viewed. I think there’s something to that.
  6. Prepare information for the next preacher. A directory, your keys to the building, and any information the new preacher will need would be helpful. Writing a letter of how you’ve been blessed by working with this church and a blessing for the new preacher and his relationship with these people would be encouraging.
  7. Be honest and helpful when prospective preachers call. I haven’t contacted men who were considering the work where I left, but I’ve cooperated when they called for information. When I’ve done this in evaluating possible congregations where I might work, I like to end with the question, “If I were in your place and you were in mine, what would you want me to tell you?” (Matthew 7:12, NKJV).[tweetthis]Some funeral directors say at death it’s good to have a time of visitation with the body present and viewed.[/tweetthis]

There are many things a preacher can do to be helpful to the church he’s leaving and to the preacher who will follow. Two scriptures come to mind:

If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18).

Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12).

The best time to talk about this is years before it happens. Elders, deacons, preachers, and other leaders can discuss and make an agreement about how they’re going to leave before they start and review it from time to time (once a year?). Jesus prepared His disciples for His departure by discussing it repeatedly (Matthew 16:21). I know of no better example.

What have you done, wish you had done, or wish a preacher had done to make a better transition in leaving a congregation?
Please comment below:

Buying a Tombstone…

…and other uncomfortable topics

I’m shopping for 2 items: an Apple watch and a tombstone. One seems to be more exciting than the other. However, I want to buy both. With the watch, I look forward to more enjoyable runs, sending and receiving messages, checking on news and weather, and looking at emails. With the tombstone, I’m reminded I won’t be alive another 71 years. I need to take care of details now.

Gail and I planned our funerals several years ago. We shopped for caskets, listed songs and pallbearers, and made other suggestions. Now we want to buy a tombstone and have it set.

Why? I think it’ll be helpful to us and our family to discuss the next phase of life — death. At our monthly business meetings of www.barbers-usa.com , I’ve started asking my son, Jerrie Wayne, “What do I need to do to make it easier for you to operate when I’m gone?”. Last month, we talked about user IDs and passwords to important websites.

Just as it’s uncomfortable for some to discuss their funeral and where they’ll be buried, I’ve observed preachers and elders rarely discuss how they’re going to leave their roles.

My, friend, Jeff Smith, replied to my last blog:

Jerry, I’ve learned from you and others that preparing to leave is as important as choosing who comes. In my case, I am 6 years from retiring from my current status, and will probably move closer to one of the boys. I have spoken this to my “inner circle”. The questions and or fears I have are these, 1) Will I have the courage to leave a town I’ve been in for over 26 years? 2) Who will replace me? [ In my opinion, he cannot be far “left” or “right” he must be in the middle.] 3) What will I do with the sense of abandonment I already feel just thinking about leaving. [I still have a little “savior” complex in me] Perhaps from your experience you could write a future article that goes into some of these things. I confess, “leaving” is a tender topic for me.

Jeff’s doing things I think are important about preparing to leave:

  1. He’s discussed it with his “inner circle.” He started early.
  2. He’s aware of his resistance to talking about a painful subject. Confession frees me to do what I resist. I’m releasing what I’ve been hiding.
  3. He’s labeled his fears and questions. Now he can work on each, decide what’s in his control, what isn’t, work on what he should, and let the rest die — shop for a tombstone, have a funeral.
  4. He’s confessed his “little savior complex.” I’ve heard more than one preacher state, “If I were to leave, this church would fall apart.” I can identify with all these after making a transition from “full-time preaching” to interim ministry in the Spring of 2007.[tweetthis]I’ve heard more than one preacher state, “If I were to leave, this church would fall apart.”[/tweetthis]

My shepherds at Berry’s Chapel asked for more definition about 4 years before I left. Before I came, I discussed with the previous elders my desire to do interim ministry. When new elders were appointed in 1995, I informed them of my intention to leave Berry’s Chapel to work as an interim minister at some point. Their statement was I could stay as long as I liked, but when I had an idea of the date, they’d like to know. They said, “Your contract calls for 90 days notice. We want longer to make a smooth transition.”

My first response to the approach was hurt. Even though I initiated the subject 10 years earlier, I thought I’d bring it up when I got ready.

  1. How will they make it without me and why would they want to?
  2. What if nobody wants me to work with them as an interim minister?
  3. Will finances work out?

Within a short time, Gail and I discussed our departure and came back with the suggestion of April 2007. We announced it to the congregation in June 2004. Our departure was smooth and encouraging. I appreciate the elders and the congregation for Apple Watchmaking our time enjoyable and our leaving as painless as death can be. I’d rather shop for an Apple watch than a tombstone. The timing was great. We’ve enjoyed 9 years of interim ministry and hope for more.

My Suggestions

  1. Shepherds and preachers, discuss this process at the beginning of the relationship — before the new preacher delivers his first sermon. It’s easier to talk about before marriage and honeymoon than after the first or fortieth “family fuss.”
  2. Discuss how long the elders and preacher want the next preacher to stay and how you’d like to end this relationship. This is especially helpful when the church has a rule that they change preachers every 5 years but don’t share the family rule until 4 years and 9 months after he starts. Will you give each other adequate notice? Will the preacher leave peacefully, even if he’s disappointed and doesn’t agree with the elders’ decision? Will the elders be as wise when they decide it’s time for the preacher to leave as they are at the invitation to begin the work? Will you give each other time to work through the grief of the congregation, the preacher, and his family on the preacher’s departure?
  3. Discuss in detail how you plan to prepare financially for the time when the preacher is unable or chooses not to be a full-time preacher. Incentives of matching retirement funds would be one way to do this. Discuss and encourage this often.
  4. Return to this discussion at least once a year and update expectations. There is less stress and emotion when the casket is selected months or years before death than the day after death.[tweetthis]There is less stress and emotion when the casket is selected months or years before death than the day after death.[/tweetthis]
  5. Plan for the preacher to take a sabbatical 7 years before his transition. I plan to write more about sabbaticals for preachers, elders, and others in a later post. This gives the preacher an opportunity to experiment with retirement and the congregation an opportunity to experience functioning without the regular preacher.
  6. Have a discussion of these issues every time the eldership changes: when one or more elders leave the eldership or when one or more are added. There’s an assumption things will continue as before, especially if you have a contract. Assuming isn’t good communication. You have a different eldership. They didn’t develop and sign the contract.

Jesus is an example of how to prepare for leaving: “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). When He brought up the subject and repeated it several times, they were afraid, disputed about who would be the greatest in the kingdom, and declined to discuss it further. But He continued to repeat the reality.

Shopping for a tombstone doesn’t evoke the most enjoyable feelings. But it’s better than leaving for others what I need to be doing about getting ready to die.

What are you doing to make a good transition?
Please comment below:

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?)[tweetthis]There’s damage to those left behind after a suicide.[/tweetthis]

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.[tweetthis]I recommend that leaders have a “no suicide contract.”[/tweetthis]

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

3 Ways I Helped Get Myself Fired

Why Would Anyone Want to Release a Good Preacher Like Me?

In a previous post, The Best Day of the Week to Fire Your Preacher, I told of the way my dismissal was mishandled.  There is certainly a better way and a better time to tell a preacher he needs to leave.

But the elder who did this wasn’t a vicious man.  He was a gentle man.  He didn’t enjoy what he did that day.  He had only served as an elder six months.  He was influenced by a small group of discontented people.  He didn’t come up with the the idea to advise me to leave.

For seven or eight years after the painful day, I felt I was the victim.  He did everything wrong.  I did everything right.  I couldn’t help it.

Then I started thinking.  Why would people ask him to ask me to leave?  Why didn’t they talk to me?  Why was I so surprised?  The idea of resigning, as he suggested, never entered my mind.  I loved the people in that congregation.  The church had grown every year since I came.  We enjoyed the community.  I planned to go to heaven from Madisonville, Kentucky.

Why were people upset?

The reason people do what they do is because they believe it is the right thing to do. Click To Tweet

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
But the Lord weighs the hearts” (Proverbs 21:2, NKJV).

What Did I Do to Give People Reason to Be Upset?

1.  I didn’t handle anger well.  I worked hard.  I expected perfection from myself and others.  Others and myself didn’t do everything right.  I was frustrated.  About every six to nine months, I preached a “mad” sermon.  I thought I was “preaching the truth without fear or favor.”  However, I was venting my own frustration.  I can hear it now in my memory.  There was certainty and disdain as I told the brethren how they needed to repent and do better.

2.  I feared, avoided, and ran from any criticism.  I thought if anyone criticized me I might be fired.  The solution was never hear criticism.  Years later, I was told by a counselor, “If you will communicate continually you don’t want criticism, not many will criticize you…until they get ready to fire you.”  He was on target.

When I won’t allow others to tell where I’m missing expectations, there’s no way to relieve the pressure and natural differences.  One day, after I had been told to resign and was already looking for a church where brethren would appreciate a great preacher, a sister came to see me.  She said, “Jerrie, you talk like you’re better than everybody else.  You talk down to people.  You talk like you’re right and everybody else is wrong.”

My reply, “Why, I don’t do that!  I don’t think I’m better than everyone else.  You’re wrong.”  It took years to recount more objectively the conversation and understand I did exactly what she said I was doing.

3.  I didn’t have a trusted friend, mentor, or counselor who might have helped me deal with my anger, and evaluate perceived, actual, or needed criticism.  I had fears of what others thought but I was afraid to give them permission to tell me.  I didn’t know or trust anyone to help sort through my doubts, lack of knowledge, and frustrations.

One of my helpful prayers is:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23, 24).

If I can’t find a way to improve a painful event, I am a victim and will be hurt again by the next person who wants to hurt me.

Is there another person who helped get himself or herself fired?  What did you learn from that?

Where Does A Person Go After Suicide?

What is the eternal destination of a person who commits suicide?  People contemplating suicide have asked this question as well as relatives and friends of those who killed themselves.

Last year I was called to preach the funeral of a friend who committed suicide.  After a few introductory remarks, I said, “Let’s discuss what people are thinking:  What is the eternal destination of a person who commits suicide?”.

Notice three people in the Bible who killed themselves :

  1. Samson (Judges 16:25-31).
  2. King Saul (1 Samuel 31:2-5).
  3. Judas (Matthew 27:3-5; Acts 1:15-25).

I find no statement of the eternal destination of King Saul.

There is an indication that Judas was lost when Peter says that “Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place” (Acts 1:25).

However, Samson is in the list of suicides and he is also in the list of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11.  After recalling their victories and painful experiences, the writer states, “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (Hebrews 11:39, 40).  Samson is in the group of Noah, Abraham, Moses, and others.  He is one of the “great cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Hebrews 12:1.

So, my answer to this question, as well as other questions about people’s destiny who have died is, “Jesus told me not to tell you.”

Jesus said in John 5:22:  “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son.”  God, our heavenly Father, will not judge one person.  All judgment has been given to Jesus.  Therefore, I won’t comment on something that’s none of my business.  I’m not qualified and it’s not my job.

In the funeral, I observed, “Since Jesus will take care of the judging of our friend and He will do a good job of that, let’s spend our time today remembering the ways he helped and encouraged us.”  He was a man who was especially helpful to me since I have been in interim ministry.  He watched our house as if he owned it.  He inspected it after each storm and called us with a report.  When we were back in Nashville and he saw us, he inquired about how we were doing and when we would be back.

We may have opinions about another’s destiny but Jesus will have the final word on judgment day.

Our opportunity is to minister to those hurt and are sad by the loss of a loved one.

Two books I’ve found helpful and have given to others (to view and/or purchase on Amazon, click on the books):

  1. Good Grief, by Granger Westburg.
  2. Tear Soup, by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen
[tweetthis]God will judge no one. All judgment is given to Jesus — not Jesus and Jerrie (John 5:22).[/tweetthis]

What are some ways you have helped those affected by suicide?