I’ve been resigning since 1988. I’d been in Dalton, Georgia, eleven years. I was looking for another place to preach. I talked with sixteen congregations. Eight of the sixteen churches had released their preachers. In each of the eight congregations where the preacher was moving without being self-motivated, they had appointed new elders within two years or less.
I reflected. That’s not the first time I’d heard of that.
Sometimes the older elders had been considering it. When new shepherds come on board, the seasoned overseers communicate their burden with the new men, “Brethren, we want to share something that’s heavy on our hearts. We’ve been thinking for some time a change of preachers may be just what this church needs to get it going again. What do you all think?”
Generally, the newly ordained bishops are apprehensive about their responsibilities and reply, “Brethren, you certainly know better than us. We’ll cooperate with whatever you think.”
One of the interesting twists to this discussion was when one of the brothers who introduced the topic continued, “We’ll write the letter. We’ll all sign it. We’ll let one of the new men read it to the church Sunday morning because you read better than we do.”
I talked to the man who read the letter on more than one occasion about his learning experience.
They weren’t happy.
Often there is non-verbal communication at first:
- The elders begin to exclude the preacher from their meetings.
- There is a salary reduction, no raise, or less of a raise than in the past.
- New requirements are instituted such as keeping a log of all activities, new items on the job description, and a more negative evaluation than in the past.
When these changes come to a seasoned, astute preacher, he sees the handwriting on the wall and hears the Lord calling him to a different work. That process often takes about two years of misery to complete its cycle.
During my move in 1988, I was enjoying my first computer. I decided to take notes and record observations. My “mustard seed” from this process was a decision to resign each time one or more elders were added in the congregation where I was preaching.
The opportunity came in 1995. On Father’s Day, two of the three elders resigned. We were without an eldership. We appointed four new elders November 19. None of them had ever served before. On the Wednesday night before they were ordained on Sunday, I talked with them: “I appreciate your willingness to accept leadership of this church at this critical time. One of the first decisions I want you to make is who’s going to be the preacher for this church. I’m resigning. It wouldn’t be right to impose myself on you. None of you were elders when I came. Different elderships have different ideas of who and what a preacher should be. I’ll bring you a letter of resignation.
“I would like to apply to be the next preacher for Berry’s Chapel. I love the church and like the people. But, you have my resignation. It was my idea — not yours. If you think in two or three years you want to change preachers but don’t want to upset the people now, let’s do it now. They’re already upset. Please let me know when you decide.”
Not long after they were appointed, we met and they asked me to be the preacher for Berry’s Chapel. We discussed my job description, contract, and our relationship. We recorded our agreements, signed them, and distributed copies to each person in the group.
Three years later, another elder was added to the group. I resigned again.
A few years later, we added three more elders. The first leadership meeting with the new elders, someone said, “This is Jerrie’s night to resign.” He was correct. I meant each resignation.
During one of my interims, a new elder was added. The next meeting of the elders and preachers I turned in my written resignation along with a request to finish the interim. They asked me to stay. The new group of elders and I discussed our relationship and how we would work with each other.
In every situation, I would have cooperated in every way if they had wanted to change preachers. If that is the wisdom of the elders, there is no point in aggravating each other two years, ending in anger and frustration.
We can acknowledge it, discuss it, and consider how we can or cannot work together and proceed according to the wisdom God gives us from those prayers and discussions. Or we can silently watch the group change three or four times over several years assuming everything is the same because I have a contract with a group of men who are no longer here and wonder what happened.
Here is the substance of the resignation letter:
Since we have a new eldership, I submit my resignation as the interim preacher for this congregation. This is a different eldership from the one that selected me a year ago. I think each eldership should select a preacher that works best with them. Should you choose to accept this resignation, I will cooperate with you in every way. This is my idea.
I would like to apply for the position of interim minister working with the new eldership. Gail and I have enjoyed our time here and we have learned to love and appreciate you. I have never worked with a more cooperative eldership and congregation.
Please let me know when you decide. I will cooperate either way.
The general rule is that family rules are unconscious, unspoken, but understood. I think it’s better to think about our rules and relationships, discuss them, and know what to expect of each other.
My choice to encourage that discussion has been to resign as the preacher, apply for the new relationship, and respect the choice of the eldership.
How have you handled transitions in elder-preacher relationships?