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.

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12 thoughts on “Preventing Leadership Suicide:

  1. Excellent! This principle should be extended to members, too. I’ve compared it to feeling like a divorce when someone in the church family walks away, but the suicide metaphor is even more powerful. Thanks, Jerrie!

  2. Excellent article. We have experienced this in our congregation and it is very disturbing especially when the person leaving is also a close friend.

    • I like to talk about this issue in the beginning of a group and remind us often of our agreement. When it happens, it hurts.

  3. Unexplained leaving is the easy thing to do. It is so much more difficult for those left behind to “manage” the departure. Always enjoy your insight. Thank you.

    • A teacher used to say, “Our hope is in our pain.” I detested that. I wondered where he came up with that idea. Perhaps, Romans 5:1-5!

  4. Judging from many years of experience I see this as an admirable action. It would make leaving a more honorable atmosphere. Thank you brother for your words of wisdom.. J. R. Pugh

  5. 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, Thank you for stating clearly the reasons this subject doesn’t get discussed as often as it should. Jesus’ disciples didn’t enjoy the crucifixion discussion. They had a fuss about who was going to be first in the kingdom each time Jesus brought it up. I have added this to the ideas for future blog posts. Until then, this is the book that has prompted my recent emphasis on this topic: http://bit.ly/1MDoaIf