When The Bags Are Packed: When A Staff Member Leaves Your Church
When I received my blog topic several weeks ago, I remember thinking, “This is going to be an easy one; I can write from a past situation that we’ve walked through and healed from.” I’m not exaggerating when I tell you it wasn’t a few short days later that I learned a beloved staff member of ours was being called away from our church. This wasn’t just any staff member but someone who had become a close and trusted friend. Someone I had dreamed with. Someone who had walked through tough times by our side and celebrated the shared joy of triumphs. Someone I believed I would be telling Cross Point stories with 20 years down the road. Someone I thought I would have the honor of working with and doing life side by side for a very long time. After that description, I am sure you can tell my heart is still a little tender.
One of the reasons I think a staff member leaving your church is so difficult to walk through is because our hearts are so torn. We are seeing someone we love dearly follow God’s call in their life. How exciting is that?! We want everyone in our church to follow God’s call in their lives… except when it is someone we love and God’s call is taking them away from us, right? No, following God’s will in our lives comes without any exceptions. We have to celebrate the departing staff member’s obedience to His call while our hearts are aching. It is a tough situation for our hearts to navigate.
Several years ago Pete and I had the opportunity to have dinner with Rick and Kay Warren along with several other pastors and wives. At one point during the dinner someone asked the Warrens how they handle it when a staff member chooses to leave their church. In her usual manner, Kay had some great words of wisdom. She said in the past she used to take it personally and would be hurt when staff would choose to leave. But over the years she has come to look at the departing staff member’s time at Saddleback as an investment. They were “in training” at Saddleback for some God-ordained purpose, and when they left God had moved them somewhere else to minister. Saddleback was part of their experience and part of their journey.
Truly, they were words of such depth. I loved her attitude and her positivity. I loved that you could tell her words were words spoken from experience, something she’d worked through in her own life and learned how to feel her way through.
1) Just because they are being called away from your church doesn’t mean they have been called out of your life. Will the relationship look different? Yes. Mainly because the amount of time you spend together is going to change. But the relationship itself still exists. Who they are to you as a person is still the same. Continuing to be a cheerleader for them as they transition and move on speaks volumes to their hearts. We have to remember even though God has called them away and their next steps are exciting, their hearts are hurting, too. We must always care more about the people than the job they do for the church.
2) Ultimately we must remember we are still serving God’s Church. God is going to call people away. He is also going to bring the people He wants serving on the front lines with us. Anytime I start to feel anxious about transitions and who is going to fill certain roles, I take a second and remind myself: “This is still God’s church; He will provide abundantly more than I can imagine.”
Whatever our former staff member does from here on out, our church is part of her story. Cross Point helped train her up and helped her grow. I have to trust our church shaped her in the way God intended during her time with us. We are honored that God chose us to be a permanent part of her personal story. And that blesses me.
How have you navigated through staff transitions? What important lessons have helped heal your heart.