If you've ever witnessed the turbulence of losing a long-time pastor, it's hard to believe that the church will even hold together. Most will recover in time and discover a new normal. Unfortunately, getting there is a wrenching experience leaving behind wounded pastors, scattered sheep, and a tarnished witness in the community.
But there is a better way. It begins with acknowledging the existence of individual and corporate emotions in grieving the pastoral loss. Deeply invested church members feel an organizational, spiritual, and relational deficit. Only with time can they begin to grasp the many ways in which this loss will change their lives.
Time, Process, and Expectations
Grieving is a slow process. After a person loses a spouse, we caution them not to hurry into a new relationship. Similarly, church leadership needs to resist the pressure of moving too quickly. Two years may seem like an eternity before hiring a new pastor, but it's a small price to pay for a healthy transition. Take your time. Slow the process down. God's people need time to feel their grief.
Organizationally intentional churches will often bring in leaders to focus on the transitional process. Systemic issues and strategic priorities should not be neglected. But rarely do churches offer an intentional process to prepare the congregation for the emotional impact of a new pastoral relationship. If they don't process through their emotions, the congregation runs a risk of either selecting the wrong pastoral successor or turning a perfectly good one into a Sacrificial Lamb—all because they didn't fully let go of their last pastor.
Finally, the congregation needs to be told what to expect in the days to come. ...