A church minister leads his flock, offering not only religious instruction but often friendship and personal guidance. He can become a symbol of strength and leadership not only for the church congregation but for the wider community, as well. So it can come as quite a shock when a pastor announces he is leaving. Some congregants may become distressed by the news, especially if they have grown to depend on him for spiritual and emotional support in times of crisis. They may experience feelings of abandonment and wonder how the church will function and who will meet the needs of its members. These emotions may make it difficult to say goodbye.
The church should announce a minister's impending departure as soon as possible and provide a final date to the congregation so members can prepare themselves for the change and determine how to say goodbye. People will have different ways of processing the news, and the first reaction may be shock. Don't be afraid of your emotions during this time, and be sure to seek out prayer and support.
Plan to meet privately with the pastor if time allows. Invite him over for dinner one last time or stop by his office to share your good wishes. If this isn't possible, express your feelings with a card, letter or phone call.
Help put together a church-wide event where church members and the pastor can share their feelings and thoughts. Allow church members to bring gifts if they wish, and expect weeping, so provide plenty of tissues. Preserve the memories in still pictures or video, and make these mementos available to the pastor. Set up a church display for parishioners.
Parishioners are bound to be nervous about what to expect next. Encourage the church to communicate openly with the congregation about who will be preaching on Sundays, who will offer pastoral support and counseling and how the church will continue operating day-to-day.
Realize the pastor and his family also have feelings to process. Assure them of your affection and prayers. Offer to help them as they prepare to leave, and pledge to continue to support the church with your prayers, presence and service so your pastor knows the church will continue to have a reliable core membership. Make plans to stay in touch and encourage one another as you both move into the new paths God has set forth for you.
Be aware that a congregation may come under exceptional stress if its pastor suddenly dies or is fired. The sense of loss may be overwhelming, and it may be much harder to maneuver through the tangle of emotions. If the pastor is leaving under suspicion of wrongdoing, parishioners may also feel betrayed, since Scriptures demand ministers possess a high level of morality and good judgment. Recognize that there is no easy way to deal with such trauma. Lean on your fellow churchgoers like never before, and have faith that the church will again find its footing.
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