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Another Pastor Leaves His Church

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Pastors leave their churches for many different reasons. Pastor Dan Reiland shares some possible reasons why.

Why do so many pastors leave their churches, especially in a relatively short amount of time?  This is a significant issue that results in discouragement of the pastor and the congregation. Morale drops and momentum dries up. In situations where the conflict is serious, the loss of trust makes it difficult to ever solve the problems.

The business market is tough right now. In current culture it’s common, almost expected, to move from job to job. One successful businessman said to me: “These days – you do what you gotta do.” He is moving his family out of state for a job that pays half what he is currently earning. Loyalty is low and that combined with a struggling economy makes people nervous, both business owners and employees. Decisions are made for short-term survival rather than long-term success and business suffers for it.

It’s impossible for the church to escape this reality. Per-capita giving is evidence enough that culture is not segregated. The church is impacted. But aren’t there some things that can be done that would help pastors cultivate leadership longevity at their church that makes a difference?

Pastors leave their churches for many different reasons. In the case of moral failure or ethical derailing, the pastor needs to step aside for a season of spiritual healing. Hopefully there is potential for restoration to leadership, but that requires careful attention. We hear about these stories often, but candidly, and gratefully, these are not the majority.

Granted, sometimes God says it’s time to go. If that’s the case, then it’s time to go. But in the majority of stories about Pastors leaving it seems like there was potential to make things work. It appears easier to leave, and in the short run it may be. But in the long run, it’s actually more work for the pastor and the church to make the transition. I’m just thinking out loud about ways we might prevent that. I don’t profess to have the answers, but I love the church and I’m a champion of pastors. I would love to see more wins on the scoreboard. I’ll give you a few of my thoughts and you can add your own to the mix. I think we can make a difference.

  • Think as much about covenant as contract.

For each person we hire at 12Stone® Church we extend a written employment contract that is triple-checked by our CFO, our HR specialist and myself. The importance of this document demands such attention. However, I have never found it to be true that when a problem arises that the contract is consulted to see if the rules were broken. We always go quickly to covenant to see if the relationship is broken. Relationships always trump rules. If the relationship is intact, you can nearly always work things out. That doesn’t mean you throw rules out, it means that the rules serve you, not the other way around.

It’s important that you put as much effort (in fact – more) into establishing and sustaining healthy relationships as it is keeping your contracts and policies in order.

  • Fight hard for redemptive community in the congregation.

Redemption must become something other than the topic of a powerful sermon. It needs to be the life culture of your church. Truth and grace is such a tough balance, near impossible at times, but it seems to me like grace must win the day. Not in lieu of or in absence of clear biblical truth, but when it comes to interpretation of the subtle nuances, grace is at the core of redemption.

So if you must fight, fight for redemption, restoration, and resolution to conflict, not with each other. I apologize if this, or any of this article sounds preachy. I don’t me to come across that way. These are more musings from my heart than finely crafted statements to be practiced as is. Here’s what I know, people are hungry for a church where God’s love and grace is abundant and people are willing to tell the truth. Which leads us to the next thought.

  • Be honest about mission and results.

My thoughts are not soft on or dismissive of results. Results matter. God’s people, resources and purpose are at stake, of course results matter. So in the case of a church not working well, have the courage to own it. Face reality and tell the truth about the condition of your church. Don’t dodge the numbers. Don’t make decline look like a temporary plateau. Here’s the good news, if the relationships are solid, trust is secure and grace is the dominate tone of the culture, you can attack the problems rather than attack the people. Then the people can attack the problems rather than attack the leaders.

All churches have problems and challenges. It’s part of human nature and that is a tension that will never go away. Embrace it, and practice leading through it.

  • Resist perfection and embrace progress.

Perfectionism kills churches. Perfectionism about things that don’t matter kills churches fast. You will never preach a perfect sermon, lead a perfect board meeting or design a perfect budget. Perfectionism is not another word for excellence. Excellence is about high standards, perfectionism is a foolish attempt to control beyond the measure of what is reasonable, prudent or productive.

If momentum is a leader’s best friend, then progress must be his/her second best friend!  Move the ball down the field just a little every day and allow the Holy Spirit to make the big plays that you can’t!  I’m still trying to not be preachy, but I’ve always felt that perfectionism squashes opportunity for the Holy Spirit to deliver the favor, power and anointing that we can never produce on our own.

  • Take a tough stand against criticism.

A critical spirit in the local church is lethal. The Enemy loves critical people. When people in the church are critical of leaders and the church in general, the Devil doesn’t need to do much more, the people are killing the church by themselves.

The way to battle criticism is not by blunt force, defensiveness or shutting down the expression of opinion. The best way to deal with open criticism is to be direct in confrontation and speak the truth in love when a critical comment is delivered. In addition, consistently demonstrate a better way by speaking positive and encouraging words!

  • Use fresh eyes to help you see what you can’t see.

Even the best leaders can’t see everything. Bringing in an outside consultant, pastor, or business leader to take a look your ministry is extremely helpful.  Choose someone you can trust and who can be objective in the process. There are so many things an “outsider” can see and sense brewing that you might miss because you are so close and deeply involved.

Being proactive and catching problems and potential problems early is a great way to keep out in front as a leader. And this obviously is a great way to strengthen and lengthen the longevity of a Pastor’s time at a church.

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