Sometimes those who’ve left our churches at some point decide to come back. Last week we learned how to handle that gracefully. In today’s post we talk about another type of leaving as we evaluate Chapter 7 of Putting the Good in Goodbye. We’ll walk through a process that hopefully will help you navigate the departure of a staff member.
The truth? There is no one best way to handle this. Using a “one-size-fits-all” approach can be disastrous. However, there are certain universal principles that are worthy of consideration each time a staff member exits.
Consider the following thoughts carefully before acting:
Are you sure it’s over?
Perhaps before accepting someone’s resignation or moving forward with terminating a position, consider these items:
- If the staff member is burned out, they may quit prematurely when what they need may be rest, counseling, and a clear plan to get back in the game in a healthy way.
- If performance or relational issues are at play, perhaps a review plan or loving correction is what needs to happen to right the ship.
- Please know that even though these people are your employees, you are still their pastor, and these situations must be enacted with care and consideration. Roles may be replaceable, but people are not expendable. We do significant harm when we use people up and then discard them.
So, make sure it’s truly over before moving on. Do your best to make things work if possible.
Get the facts straight and in writing if possible
The last thing you want is for a departure to turn into a gossip-fest and a “he said/she said” situation. During your conversation with the departing staff member, carefully document what is being said and agreed upon. Communicate to your board, elders, and remaining staff in an honest and compassionate way. If, or when, the stories of what “really happened” come out, and people inevitably begin sharing their opinions, it’s good to have a record of who, what, when and where, to firmly establish what happened.
Never throw mud
We must lovingly cover staff we’ve asked to leave or that have left of their own volition. If we don’t, we ultimately harm the Body of Christ. When a departure occurs, especially if staff have been let go, hurt feelings are normal. Work to heal them as far as it depends on us.
Please note that creating a church culture where only “evil people” leave or are asked to leave is a significant mistake. Besmirching the character of staff who have left is for all intents and purpose, sin. Co-author of Putting the Good in Goodbye Jim Weigand says, “Take the high road and give God something to bless.”
Fill in the blanks before the congregation does
Announcing a staff departure from the pulpit as well as in some type of writing to the congregation is important so everyone gets the news in relatively the same time frame. However, key leaders like remaining staff, elders, deacons, team leaders and the departing team member’s direct reports should know ahead of time to allow for them to digest the information and ask questions if necessary. Filling in the blanks also aids in minimizing the “he said/she said” effect.
Use integrity when communicating the departure. If the staff member was fired, do not say they resigned. And be wary of terminology like “God moved them on.” This will come across as disingenuous at best or untruthful at worst when it gets back to the departed staff member.
Reassure the people affected by the change
When news of a staff departure emerges, one of the first questions in people’s minds is: “What’s going to happen next? Is there a plan?” Communicate your plans to fill in gaps created by the staff member’s leaving, even if those plans are temporary. Assure them you are committed to taking proper steps to maintain the effectiveness of that area of ministry. Be honest, and don’t make promises you aren’t certain you’ll be able to keep.
Construct a kind, thoughtful severance package
This is an important consideration in staff departures. Consult with your board about what is both fair and kind as the staff departs. This could include several weeks or months and/or the extension of benefits for a period. Be specific with the terms of the severance package so there is no misunderstanding. As always, put the severance terms in writing, and tie them to the departing staff member’s commitment and follow-through to protect the health of the church.
Consider an exit interview
This is not for the faint of heart. If you think you can emotionally handle it, consider an exit interview. It’s possible the data you gather will be area for growth for both you and the organization. An exit interview also gives the departing person the opportunity to vent to you and not to others.
Manage your own heart and thoughts
Remember: Staff members don’t belong to you . . . they belong to God. So, resist the temptation to beat yourself up over the comings and goings of staff. Now . . . if their departure happened because of something you did or didn’t do . . . learn what you can, try to make amends, and move forward.
Can a staff member’s longevity—or a lack thereof—reflect our leadership? Perhaps. Is it always? No. Health happens when we understand and own our contributions to a departure and the staff member owns theirs.
Working your way through these eight principles during the exit of a staff member won’t be easy nor will it necessarily eliminate all the difficult feelings associated with the exit. However, the process will most likely reduce the amount of negative blowback surrounding said exit.
Next week we will finish our journey through Putting the Good in Goodbye with a few exhortations we hope will encourage you and equip you for the road ahead. In the meantime, take some time to work through these questions:
- What process do you currently use to transition a staff member away from your team?
- In what ways can you improve that current process?
As always, cheering for you,
John & Jaime