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?
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2 thoughts on “When a Preacher Fires the Church

  1. Excellent points. Of course the problem is that many transitions create or are borne of unhealthy emotional and spiritual situations to begin with, greatly reducing the likelihood that such a transition can be any different. Oftentimes, people do not have enough time to settle the emotional elements in their mind and with others before making many mistakes in transition. This is unfortunate, and probably the rule more than the exception. Thus, your articles continue to be on the cutting edge of a situation that must not remain taboo. The emotional health of congregations, preachers and elderships is at risk already. This (transition) is an hour of great temptation, and Satan lies in wait to exploit our weaknesses during these times. He succeeds by (1) keeping it under the rug beforehand, and (2) exploiting the emotional struggles during and after the transition itself.
    Keep fighting a great fight brother.

  2. Good observations. We do what we do because that’s the way we’ve always done it. This is the reason I recommend taking about transition (when and how) before the first sermon and at least annually after that. A mentor often repeated, “What we won’t talk about, we’ll divorce and divide about.” If you didn’t talk about leaving before the first sermon, now is the next best time.

    That you for talking the time to share your perspective.