One should proceed with some amount of caution when you zig when everyone else zags – which is exactly what I have done when it comes to developing an exit strategy for my church staff. It might be a good idea to take what I say with a grain of salt, because what I am going to say goes against what many experts would recommend.
To be honest, I believe the church is the absolute worst institution when it comes to developing staff exit strategies. We lose and dismiss staff in ways that cause maximum damage to both the staff member and the church body. I think the root of our problem is that we take a worldly model – and then make it even worse.
As a general rule of thumb, most employers use a “shock and awe” approach to staff dismissals. This tactic involves removing the staff member from their responsibilities with as little notice as possible and then escorting them right out of the building. The thinking is that immediately removing Joe welder off of the line will never have any impact on either production or the customer. However, giving Joe any kind of notice will only give Joe an opportunity to sabotage the company in any number of ways.
I wonder if this model is really appropriate in the church. Quite frankly, many of the workplace assumptions do not hold true within a church context. Suddenly removing a staff member can have a huge impact on program operation and can have a disastrous impact on the church body. I have seen with my own eyes many churches deeply wounded as a result of sudden staff dismissals, and more than one senior pastor face ministry killing backlashes as a result. I’ve seen large churches with tons of positive momentum turn into a steep decline because they have chosen to follow this kind of worldly wisdom.
What’s an alternative? What I’ve told my staff is that if there is a problem that they will hear about it from me personally. We will take whatever steps we can to resolve the problem and come up with some kind of action plan. Should that plan ultimately fail and we see that this road leads no where, that’s when we take the road less travelled. Instead of an “I quit/you’re fired” scenario, let’s instead work on our exit strategy. The staff member, knowing that their ministry here is coming to an end, is free to look for another position. For my part I will gladly offer a reference. In the mean time, the staff member continues to do their duties, but with an eye towards eventually handing off the torch. One of my staff members, began to document various tasks and procedures in order to help her eventual successor. While I know that my staff member’s job search will likely take 6 months or more, I am also aware that it is doubtful that I could find someone in that amount of time myself. Once the departing staff member has found a place to go to, we announce that they are leaving, hold a big party, and publicly commission and bless them for their new ministry.
The positives for this model is that the staff member’s family doesn’t have to face financial hardship, the staff member doesn’t face public embarrassment and a black stain on their résumé, and the Kingdom of God doesn’t lose yet another faithful worker to heartache, disillusionment, and burnout. As far as the church is concerned, the body doesn’t face the pain of a sudden removal, or the division of having people pick sides, or the loss of our newest and most spiritually vulnerable believers. What would you rather see? Pastor Bob sent off to a new ministry with the celebration and blessing of the church or Pastor Bob suddenly disappearing and his name stricken forever from your lips?
Of course, there are situations involving major moral failure or creating serious division in the church where a lengthy exit strategy would simply mean more damage to the congregation. But let’s face it – this is the exception rather than the rule. Most of our dismissals and resignations are about a bad fit not a heinous crime.
You may not devise an exit strategy that is identical to mine, but I still think that there are important questions to ask yourself. What would an exit strategy look like if you put the care of God’s servants and their families as your highest priority rather than your lowest? What would it look like if you truly followed the Scriptural principle of showing them “double honor” rather than no honor? What would it look like if you were aiming for the best transition rather than the fastest? What would your strategy look like if you knew you had to give an answer for it in front of a Great White Throne?
Something to think about.