On the show today we are talking all about supporting your teams when there has been a transition in staff.
I’ve heard of so many churches that have seen significant staff and leadership changes in the past year. Staff leaving or a leadership change can be very difficult. For both parties, those who are leaving and those impacted by the change. And in this episode, I touch on how you can support your team through this difficult change.
THE GREAT RESIGNATION
I’ve heard of the term great resignation, and I have no doubt that the impacts of Covid have been a big contributor. The moral injury, the ever-shifting expectations and requirements, and the financial hardships have no doubt contributed to people reconsidering their purpose and how and where they want to live their life.
I think career and employment shifts have been seen outside of ministry too. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had the thoughts of “ is this career what I want to spend my life doing?”.
In the past few years many have discovered that in the end, it’s your family that truly matters and people have been challenged to see how their careers have supported or hindered those relationships.
BURNOUT IN MINISTRY
But I also think that systemically there is an unhealthy expectation of those in ministry. I’ve often considered the expectations on pastors as a receipt for burnout.
Oftentimes, not always, pastors are considered to be on-call available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, yet are very isolated, with little supportive oversight. Pastors are also expected to be good at everything from public speaking to counseling, budgeting, and project management, and have theological expertise.
All of this weighs on a person and oftentimes, burnout can be the result.
DUAL RELATIONSHIPS IN MINISTRY
One of the challenges of ministry roles is they have dual relationships with just about every person in their life. Meaning they are both pastor and boss, or pastor and neighbor, or pastor and friend. Dual relationships are tricky to navigate and can be taxing.
I feel this is at the heart of many interpersonal conflicts. Each role, be it, a friend, boss or pastor has a set of social expectations and unspoken rules and when you hold two roles at the same time, it can be hard to know what is appropriate at what time.
The factor of dual relationships alone can impact someone’s working relationship and cause so much friction they need to leave.
I have heard a few times of people working for a church yet attending another church. Of course, this wasn’t a person in a pastoral role, but I thought what a great way to avoid the complex issues of dual relationships.
There are also times when people grow out of a role or feel the need to move on. In the corporate or non-profit sector, this is really common. Nowadays it’s rare for people to have only one career, or even more rare is working at one job or one employer all their life. It’s normal for people to move, shift careers and have changes in their life.
I think we have a bizarre connection to people in ministry and loyalty and I’m open to being wrong about this. However, I think that it’s healthy and normal for peopel to change and move.
I have a child who is just going into grade 7, in a french school board, and in their school Grade 7 is high school. Now, this is mind-blowing to me, that my 12-year-old is going to high school, but it’s also showing me that it’s not going to be very long until she is looking at colleges and doing career coaching.
I have known from the beginning that she is going to eventually move away from home. My job as a parent is to raise her and help her develop her character, build a personal relationship with Jesus, discover her purpose and then send her out.
It would be weird if I was shocked that as a young adult she wanted to leave and much as this is expected and healthy doesn’t mean it’s easy and it doesn’t hurt.
So even if we are able to shift the expectations of those in ministry and see that the church is an incubator, to grow leaders in their skills and character and that it’s normal to move on, it still hurts.
Our mind interprets the world around us based on our past experiences. And so it’s not surprising that when someone tells us that they are leaving their position we can interpret that as a personal rejection or feel like we lost trust, get angry, out of control, and feel anxious.
This is probably because a loss in the past caused these emotions and experiences and so when we have another loss, we anticipate these same negative experiences.
But like I previously said the church is like our family. It is natural and normal for people to move away.
However, while people are with us we are to help them develop character, build a personal relationship with Jesus, discover their purpose, and then send them out.
GRIEF DUE TO THE LOSS OF A LOVED ONE
When we think of grief we usually think of a loss of a loved one yet really any loss can prompt the grief process.
The grief process includes these familiar stages
Having recently walked with a church through a loss of a key leader all of these stages sound very familiar. Grief is experienced differently by each individual, but psychologically it’s very similar.
What I mean by that is grief is felt, physically, mentally, and emotionally by everyone, but it can look different.
For example, some people may need to keep busy to distract, and they feel compelled to keep moving, while others are overcome with exhaustion and little to no motivation.
HOW TO IDENTIFY GRIEF
Some common experiences of grief are:
- Physically: Headaches, feeling tired, achy muscles, and nausea.
- Emotionally: Sadness, anger, disbelief, despair, guilt, and loneliness.
- Mentally: Forgetfulness, lack of concentration, confusion, and poor memory.
So if your team has experienced a loss then having grace for these experiences is helpful for the team.
If your team is struggling to meet deadlines due to low motivation, brain fog, and apathy. This may be a sign that they are grieving.
The tricky thing is that people can get stuck in their grief. Grief is focused on the past and when stuck in that can prevent you from moving into your future.
THE STORY OF RUTH AND HOW IT SHARES THE EXPERIENCE OF GRIEF
One of the Bible stories that I feel really shows the process of grief is Ruth. While Ruth is often viewed as a romance, I think is also a tragedy.
The book of Ruth starts out centered on Naomi. She and her husband, Elimelech, and two children have to leave their home because of a drought.
They travel to a new country because there is food and the family plants roots, and their boys grow up in that community. Tragically Elimelech dies and Naomi is left as a single mom to raise her boys.
They grow and marry two local girls and about 10 years into their marriage tragically both sons die leaving three widows to survive in a culture that relies on the male to provide and sustain them in the community.
In addition to the loss of her sons, Moad, their new home is now in a drought of its own.
At that moment Naomi has a choice, she has lived in this country for almost a decade. She has experienced extraordinary loss but instead of settling in her grief and remaining stuck, she chooses to survive.
“I’ve done this before I can do this again.” Naomi chooses to return to Judah because she has heard the drought is over. She chose to journey through grief, rather than staying stuck in her grief.
On the journey, there is an exchange between Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth. Naomi tells the women to remain and rebuild their own lives and she tries to bargain or negotiate with them on how they can turn this tragedy around.
Together they wept and supported one another however Naomi gives up on convincing Ruth to stay back. Naomi saw that Ruth was determined and she said no more.
Maybe this is in frustration, and it’s the silence treatment, maybe is because she is overwhelmed with gratitude. The Bible really doesn’t say why Ruth was silent.
They arrive in Bethlehem and get connected back with relatives and begin to make a new life there, accepting their situation.
Ruth’s romance with Boaz takes place and this is what this book is most known for. We then learn that the lineage of Ruth and Boaz leads to King David and ultimately the line of Jesus.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE STORY OF RUTH
Although this story is a beautiful romance and a story of God’s faithfulness. I also think that it shows how Naomi journeys through grief refusing to let it herself get stuck, but continues to journey through to her future.
When we experience grief and loss, it can be easy to get caught up and stuck. It’s painful, we are angry, and shocked and it’s hard to see a future without the person we lost in it.
This struggle is understood when there is a death of a loved one. When there is a loss of leadership, staff, and friends in ministry our bodies and minds react the same way.
How could this be, what happened, why, there must be someone at fault, something must of went wrong? What does the church look like now? Our minds can be swirling and it can be easy to get stuck.
But like Naomi, I encourage you to have courage and make a choice in life and journey through these thoughts, feelings emotions.
So often we want to push them down, ignore them, and carry on with ministry. There is a mission to do. Don’t get sidetracked, don’t get distracted. And so we stuff these thoughts, and emotions down and press on.
But journeying in life doesn’t mean that you ignore your emotions. While on the journey Naomi and her daughter-in-law wept, bargained, and were angry.
Emotions need motion.
If we stuff these down and down and not give ourselves time to process them, even in the name of the Gospel it’s like pushing a beachball down under the water in a pool.
At some point, these emotions are going to bounce back and they often appear in an explosive way.
HOW CAN THE CHURCH HANDLE GRIEF
Acknowledging the hurt, sadness, and pain of a loss does not minimize your faith in God’s call. It’s part of the journey but the important part is to not get stuck. Process the pain on a journey to life.
When a staff or volunteer leaves your church allow for people to process the loss, but as leaders create a destination that people can journey to.
It can be challenging, and uncomfortable to hold two imposing emotions at the same time. Grief, anger, sadness, and hope for the future but it’s possible.
Like Naomi and Ruth, their sadness and anger did not prevent them from journeying to Bethlehem. It in fact helped them.
When they arrived in Bethlehem they were ready and prepared for what God gave them.
How you handle the loss of a team member prepares you for what God has for you. If you get stuck in anger, offense, or sadness it will be much more difficult to accept what God has for you.
Emotions need motion.
By feeling the anger, lamenting the grief, and giving your questions and frustrations to God you journeying through this really hard experience.
The final stage of grief is meaning. When you are suffering and on the journey, it’s hard to see that there will be any meaning to the pain.
I’m sure if you told Naomi that there is a purpose to the loss of her husbands and sons she would have slapped you.
This doesn’t mean I am saying God causes suffering. I do not believe this but I do believe that God redeems suffering.
We have no idea when Naomi passed away, but I’m curious if she ever saw her great-great-grandson David slay Goliath. I wonder if Naomi saw him become King.
What an incredible moment that would have been. How could so much celebration come out of so much tragedy? That is the faithfulness of God.
Naomi would never have known that Jesus was born from her lineage and out of that tragedy
While God doesn’t cause suffering and loss, he is faithful. We can’t even imagine what he can redeem and I know it’s hard to see it in the moment of pain. But that’s faith.
One of the most well-known scriptures in Ruth is when Ruth tells Naomi that she will not turn back but she is going to journey with her to Bethlehem. It was at the part that I imagine Naomi gave Ruth the silent treatment.
Ruth says “Where you go, I will go.”
The moment when you lose a team member, it can be tempting to ask questions, doubt, and worry.
These are distractions and it is the time to check back in with God and say, “God, I don’t have the answers, I don’t know where this journey is leading but I’m going to trust that where you are calling me to be I will go. God where you go, I will go.”
It must have been so overwhelming for Ruth and Naomi but they stayed focused on what God was calling them to do. They did not let these distractions cause her to stay stuck, but she was courageous to go on the journey.
If you are experienced a loss on your team I encourage you to have the courage to journey through grief. Hold grief and hope at the same time, don’t submerge your emotions, but face them, weep, and get angry.
God created these emotions so he can handle them, it actually builds trust and faith that your journey will lead to a place where God will redeem the loss.
When there has been a loss on your team, as a leader it’s a fine balance of offering hope and giving people space to journey through grief.
But your journey will prepare you for accepting what God has planned for you. Take these opportunities to build trust and connection in your team and journey together so so that you are ready to receive what God has redeemed.
CONNECT WITH HOPE MADE STRONG
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