September 11, 2007 Featured Article


If the Lead Pastor leaves then you should leave also

by Ken Johnson

Ken Johnson, President & CEO
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I wrote about his in my September 12, 2007 newsletter and did receive some interesting responses. Here’s how they went with my first writing and my response to those replies.


The third thing is concerning what happens with the remainder of the professional staff when a senior pastor leaves. I admit that every time I talk to a staff about this they are ready to tar and feather me, but I have seen too many churches torn apart because some or all of the professional staff remain. I have from my first music position in a church advocated that when the senior pastor leaves that all of the professional staff should resign and leave. What happens in almost every case is that the new pastor has to fight the remaining staff when he/she tries to change anything because "that's not the way we've always done it." The new pastor has enough problems when the congregation wants to keep the status quo, but it's even worse when they have to fight the people who are in the office every day.


Here is a story to illustrate the problem. I recently found out about a music director who stayed into a new pastors tenure and wouldn't cooperate with anything the new pastor wanted and after two or more years the pastor finally fired him. I'm not sure how the pastor put up with it for that period of time but he did. The problem is that the choir director took a whole raft of choir members and their families when he left. After more than forty years of ministry I can tell you dozens of horror stories exactly like this one.


This is not what the church is supposed to be and do, so, when the pastor resigns, retires, gets fired or whatever, pack your bags and let the Lord lead you to where he wants you to be.


If you don't agree with me about this be sure to let me know I would like to get a dialogue going about this subject.


What people thought about the entire staff resigning

I did get a number of letters telling me what a nut I was, and how what I suggested wouldn't work. I actually left out a few of the key details as to how I would handle a situation like this to try to get some response, and I did accomplish that. So, I have decided to write my complete thoughts in the next newsletter. Oh don't worry there will still be some people who will disagree with me, but that's okay, I don't ever expect everyone to agree with me. Be on the lookout for that article.


This is a reply to the people who were a little concerned about my thoughts on what a church should do with their professional staff when the senior pastor resigns. Here were the thoughts that I expressed in the August 8th edition of the Newsletter:

Dear Xxxx:

Thanks for your note about my “…interesting theory of chaos!” I admit I don‘t see it that way and I have been looking at it for over forty years in ministry. Regretfully I’ve seen the flip side from what you envision too often to think it would be chaos. You are right it could be chaos but handled properly it is rarely a chaotic situation.

Granted, I conveniently left out certain parts of the process just so I could get some dialog going and it certainly did just that. Let me actually outline what the process would be and has been in a number of instances from my point of view. The phase out of the leadership is sort of what I suggest the churches do. When the senior pastor leaves I suggest that the staff begin looking for other jobs and plan to leave 90 days after the new pastor is in place. This gives the new pastor 90 days plus whatever time there is between their hiring and when they begin work to begin putting together a staff that is compatible with them. Interestingly enough many times someone on the current staff has worked with that new pastor before and the new pastor will want them to stay.

The problem is that when a person stays from the old staff they usually have everything set in their minds as to how things work and are unable to make the needed changes to fit the new pastor’s style. Should they be “…willing to submit to the leader God has placed in authority over them.” Yes, probably so, it could be said that they are not looking realistically at their Call or maybe God is Calling them somewhere else and they just don’t want to uproot themselves and their families and move. Is that what God wants them to do? Stay and cause problems. Probably not, but we are all human beings, and sometimes God has to gives us a “kick” in the backside because a push didn’t work. Regretfully this staff member may have caused havoc during this transition period and torn the church apart. And in fact they may take a number of people with them when they leave. That is really sad, but again I say we are still just human beings. If the church has the right leadership they will come out of that difficult situation even better than they were before.

This doesn’t only happen with staff but as you have mentioned with former staff people who stay in the church. I think that the rule should be (and it is in some denominations) that when a staff person resigns or retires they need to immediately find another church and become involved there. They need to tell the members of the former church that they are no longer at that church and that they won’t discuss anything about the former church. That is what I have done for my entire career. Interestingly enough I learned of these problems before I went to college and made the decision to make that kind of break by the time I was 22 and leaving my first church position to go to my first teaching job.

Incidentally in the mega churches where they begin grooming the future senior pastor they have far less problems. Early on the staff and board leadership spend many hours in prayer and let God lead them to who He wants to be the future pastor and if that person is not already on the staff they get him or her and begin grooming them for that future leadership position. The staff has been very instrumental in selecting this person and will generally stay when that person takes over leadership. This is a much better way to handle this situation.

The problem is that in the mainline churches they generally don’t allow this kind of intelligent transition to happen. In fact the United Methodists usually assign pastors to churches without the church having much say.

Actually many times the church members don’t have much understanding as to how to select a staff member especially a senior pastor so sometimes (actually most of the time) it’s better to leave it up to the staff or a board.

Honestly I could fill a book with horror stories that I have witnessed over the years, but I’m sure that you have better things to do than listen to those chaotic, crazy stories.


© 2007, Ken Johnson, President and CEO of The Ken Johnson Group, LLC, Church Consultants. To contact Ken, or for permission to reprint this article, send an e-mail to: ken@thekenjohnsongroup.com



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