Over the past two years our church has lost multiple families to jobs that took them away from northern Maine. With their exodus they also left empty leadership roles that were critical to our ministry.
Ministering in an economically depressed area means you come to expect families to leave for better job opportunities and in a normative size church (approximately 75-100 members) this will mean that they will leave large gaps.
Good jobs are hard to come by in our area and these men and women need to provide for their families. I certainly understand this and even encourage them to pursue stability for their families. But it’s still painful to watch them leave. Believe me, if I could pay some of these leaders to stay and serve at Calvary, I wouldn’t hesitate. The budget just isn’t there to support more vocational leaders and this is the case for many congregations our size.
This is why pastors from any size church and especially a normative size church must be intentional about preparing themselves and their churches for big and sometimes frequent changes.
Here are five ways to prepare your church for leadership loss and how to move forward when it takes place.
Prepare Before it Happens
If we are going to be ready when leaders leave, then leadership multiplication needs to be one of the primary goals of every leader in our church. Imagine if every one of your leaders identified and mentored their potential replacements. A day will come when they’ll need to pass the torch and we must be ready if that day comes sooner than we like.
In places like northern Maine we are just confronted a lot more frequently with the reality of change. It’s had to naturally become a piece of our congregation’s fabric. Otherwise that “fabric” of our church would have a lot of irreparable and potentially crippling rips. And, perhaps even worse, we might have a bunch of potential leaders whose gifts waste away as they sit unused in the shadows of established leaders.
Clearly Communicate to Your Church
Communicate that God is in control
When a strong leader leaves your church the people in the congregation will desire reassurance. Remind them who really runs the church and that Jesus has not left them deserted. He is the head and is still in control.
Communicate the vision
Most times, people revert to what they know. If you have done a great job casting vision this is a good thing because they will revert to the vision you have cast for them. But in many cases, the vision is not what they will fall back to. Remind your people of the foundations that your church exists to accomplish.
Re-Organize and Re-Strategize
You have to ask yourself if it is possible to to maintain the current trajectory of your church with the leadership loss. Depending on how many leaders you have lost or the weight that they carry, you may have to reconsider what you can pursue. The last thing your church needs is for you to burn out running after a strategy that isn’t conceivable in your current leadership capacity.
Prepare to Step-up
At some time or another, most pastors will need to put out more bandwidth than they planned to. If you have re-strategized and you have scaled back as far as you can go, sometimes you’ll just need to put out more until God raises up more leaders or the people He is calling step up in obedience.
Celebrate and Send the Missionaries
We often think that missionaries only go to certain parts of the country or world. Or at least that’s what I used to believe. The truth is, wherever Christians live, they are missionaries there. The Great Commission applies to all believers everywhere. It’s possible that our training of “leaders who leave” is God’s way of preparing missionaries for wherever He sends them. What might look to us like a job transfer and a painful loss for our church could actually be God expanding His Kingdom in another place.
God has chosen to send dozens from our severely unchurched context right into the Bible belt. This is not what I would have done if I were in charge, but I think the greatest truth I continue to learn in ministry is this: Even though it is difficult to see them go, I believe God has used our church to train and develop these missionaries no matter where they are moving.
You can lead your people to mope around whining to God about why He took your best leaders away or you can celebrate that He found you worthy to be a part of training them. When you celebrate sending missionaries, no matter the destination, it will communicate a Great Commission message to your people that words alone simply will not do. Although we will certainly aim our missionaries where we think is best, God determines where they will land and we should thank Him for that.