182. Chairpersons, Church Boards and Staff — The Trauma of Resignation

In blog article 68 “When a Lead Pastor Resigns — the Implications for a Church Board Chair” I discuss several factors that church board chairs should consider when they receive a formal resignation from their lead pastor. In this blog article I want to approach this issue more from the standpoint of policy and thus build upon earlier comments.

The impact of a lead pastor resignation will resonant differently depending upon the size, maturity, and stability of the congregation. Similarly the competency, spiritual intelligence, and degree of trust within the board will influence the impact of such an event both within the church board and the congregation. For most within the congregation hearing this news will be traumatic. In the case of some it will catch them totally by surprise. Others, however, will be more sanguine because they have been through this before. And then there may well be a sense of relief in the minds of some. Regardless of individual responses to the news, church board chairs should realize that emotions will be somewhat on the surface for several months as the congregation releases, farewells, and then moves into the search process. Presuming that the resignation is not for reasons of immorality or illegality, tt is very important that the chairperson, on behalf of the board, communicate with the congregation regarding several issues:

1. that the resigning pastor is being treated with respect, generously and with appropriate recognition of his work;

2. that the congregation appreciate that pastoral leadership changes are a normal part of church life, God remains faithful, and their mission continues;

3. that the search for a new lead pastor follows specific process set out in the bylaws and the church board is implementing this process competently;

4.that the board is taking steps to ensure that the responsibilities of the lead pastoral role will be cared for on in interim basis.

As the search process continues good communication with the congregation will be essential, including the way in which the congregation will be participating in the decision to select a new lead pastor.

From the standpoint of the church board the existence of good policy guides and protects board members in such circumstances. They can get caught up in the emotions of the moment as well and do and say erratic things. A well-developed succession policy will go a long way to preclude this from happening. Such policy also enables the chairperson to know in advance the decisions the board must make to lead the congregation forward. Although the basic procedural principles found in bylaws will be helpful, rarely are they sufficient to deal with all matters. Undoubtedly the bylaws will clarify who is responsible for the major decisions, but it will not address many of the “how” questions. This is where board policy will be important.

For example, how soon should the board establish a search committee? Does the search committee or the board develop the new position description? Who establishes the qualifications necessary for the new hire? What about salary, benefits and moving costs? Is there any plan for assisting in purchase or rental of housing? Is the search committee responsible to bring forward one candidate or several? To whom is the search committee accountable for its work? Who sets the budget for the search process? Who is responsible to ensure that the pulpit is filled with well-qualified interim speakers? The issues are numerous.

If you as chairperson have to help the board work through these questions in the midst of the resignation, it will consume tremendous energy, be contentious in some measure, and slow down the process for moving forward. Stress levels will increase. The opportunity to use this transition to strengthen faith, build trust and unity, and celebrate God’s initiatives will also be compromised. Creating good policy before a resignation comes has numerous benefits, including the wisdom provided by the current lead pastor. He will help your board see things through the eyes of a person candidating for a position.

If you have authorized your lead pastor to accept the resignations of all non-pastoral staff, then you should have some policy in place that describes the board’s expectations regarding such actions. While the board authorizes the lead pastor to manage such staff changes, the board will also define some boundaries within which the lead pastor will operate in such cases. For example, the board may stipulate that the lead pastor will report all such resignations to the board and indicate that board policy has been followed in each case. Delegation of authority to manage such matters does not absolve the board members of legal liability to ensure that such changes are managed in a manner consistent with employments standards in your provincial or state jurisdiction. The board may also require the lead pastor to report the reason(s) for the resignation. It may be that the resignation has occurred for reasons related to poor employee relations — matters which the board needs to know about.


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