Picking up the Pieces
After a pastor's fall those remaining must lead themselves and not merely the church.

In the old nursery rhyme "all the king's horses and all the king's men" tried to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Likewise, when a pastor falls, a great amount of energy can be poured into the leader's restoration. But what about the fallen leader's church? In the wake of the Ted Haggard story we've invited Dave Terpstra, pastor at The Next Level Church in Denver, to share his reflections on leading a church after the fall of a gifted pastor.

What should a church do after the fallout of a disgraced leader's resignation? That was the question our team faced almost 6 years ago when our senior pastor resigned after the revelation of a disqualifying pattern of sin in his life. After the shock began to fade and reality began to set in, we sat around and asked ourselves, "What next?"

After the fall of a primary senior leader, it is the junior leaders of the church who are left holding the bag. Sometimes, in churches with a smaller staff, it is lay people who are left to lead the church. The fall of a primary leader requires the best leadership that a church can muster, and for most churches that sort of leadership usually came from the person who fell.

Thankfully, when we found ourselves in this situation a group of mature and experienced church leaders offered their support and advice to those of us left. It was their words of encouragement that allowed me to discover the one thing I believe every church needs after its leader has fallen - a team of leaders who focus on themselves before they focus on the church.

At the time our senior pastor resigned, I was 25 years old and still a full-time student at Denver Seminary. I had just bought a house and was getting ready to settle into a comfortable junior position at the church. I had no experience in the senior levels of church leadership. But in spite of my youth and inexperience I was invited to replace our senior pastor as the primary teacher on our new leadership team.

I have no intention of trying to argue that under our team's new leadership our church has been "successful". But I believe that two things are true. Our church has survived the fall of our charismatic founding pastor and I believe we have been faithful along the way. And I attribute that to God's faithfulness to us, and the primacy we as a leadership team placed on our own self leadership.

When thrust into this situation, a leader faces enormous challenges. The church's phone rings off the hook, the mailbox is full, perhaps the media calls, and everyone's email inbox is full of forwarded emails. People want to know what really happened. Rumors fly. And I can attest that all of these things are 100 times worse if the senior pastor does not publicly confess and own up to what they did.

November 28, 2006

Displaying 1–3 of 3 comments


December 01, 2006  12:22pm

I think that in this last times it is reality in most churches. We have to seek our Lord like never before. God blessings and greetings from Croatia!

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Mark Goodyear

November 28, 2006  11:21am

Dave Terpstra writes, "I can attest that all of these things are 100 times worse if the senior pastor does not publicly confess and own up to what they did." Most pastor resignations aren't so dramatic. They are straws that break the camel. Accumulations of little moments of bitterness and little decisions that bother people. My wife and I joined a church just months before the pastor resigned under questionable circumstances–mainly related to pride. I still don't know the details. In our church, we didn't talk about the details much. Our entire leadership collapsed until only one minister remained. It sounds trite, but we just trusted God. He could be our shepherd even without a salaried leadership team. At least for awhile, I told myself weakly. It wasn't an easy time. But everyone worked together–and God brought us through faithfully. A year later, we are a stronger body because of it.

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November 28, 2006  11:11am

I first began attending TNL, just after the change in leadership that Dave wrote about took place. I had just recently given my life to the Lord, and TNL was my first real church home–a home I loved for about two and a half years, until God led me in a new direction. Dave, I'd like to thank you and the rest of the TNL pastors and elders for the job you all did in guiding the church in that difficult time. TNL continues to be a place that I love; may it always be a place that God loves. Thanks for sharing your story and your wisdom.

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