Last week I wrote about the conundrum of what to tell a congregation when a staff member has resigned or been dismissed under less-than-ideal conditions. We explored the options of:
- Full disclosure – Telling a congregation the gory details of the departed staff member’s failures, or
- No disclosure – Saying nothing publicly about the departure, except perhaps, that “Pastor Tom” (we called him) has moved on to a new ministry, or
- Partial disclosure – Carefully sharing a few, discreet, truthful statements about “Pastor Tom’s” departure. This might sound something like, “Just as the Apostle Paul and his good friend Barnabas had some strong disagreements about how to do their missionary work, Pastor Tom and Senior Pastor Dave had some disagreements over how to do ministry here. For the good of all concerned, Pastor Tom has resigned and has completed his service with our church.”
I mentioned that the full disclosure approach is almost never a good idea. Scripture, legal considerations and human resources (HR) best practices agree that full disclosure is dangerous.
The no disclosure approach is increasingly favored, but last week I shared four arguments (read the full post here) against it.
- The “no disclosure” approach fuels imaginations, and what we imagine is often worse than the truth.
- The “no disclosure” approach breeds congregational mistrust in the leaders who clearly are not telling their followers the truth.
- The “no disclosure” approach creates elephants – unaddressed, forbidden, distracting issues and questions – in the very room where you want your people to worship God and express love for each other.
- God’s people can handle the truth when it is graciously and humbly shared by big-hearted, self-deprecating leaders.
So without retracting what I wrote, let’s leave room for some nuance with a few qood questions which will help determine how much should be shared in your own unique situation:
- How serious are the issues involved?
There are at least two extreme possibilities here:
If the issues are very serious, such as in situations where some type of abuse or other criminal behavior is being investigated, a policy of “no disclosure” might be called for. Your church doesn’t need a lawsuit and it also doesn’t want to get in the way of a criminal investigation.
If the issues are trivial or would be unnecessarily embarrassing to Pastor Tom’s family, the no disclosure approach might be best. If Pastor Tom has family members in the church and he tendered his resignation because (a) he didn’t get the raise he wanted, or (b) he was told for the umpteenth time that he needed to turn in expense reports, or (c) his immediate family had stopped attending the church, it might be best for the leaders to say very little or nothing – at least publicly. “Those who have questions about Pastor Tom’s resignation are welcome to approach any pastor or elder with their concerns.”
- Who knows about this? A few insiders, or everyone? Two stories follow:
In the case of a pastor friend of mine, the congregation is growing with new folks who think the church is wonderful and know nothing about the “Pastor Tom” situation. The leaders decided that they didn’t need to flesh out the situation in front of a dozen or so new, fresh-faced attendees.
Similarly, a church of which I was the pastor lost a “string” of families over a period of several months. It was not a “split” in that they left our congregation over a variety of issues and landed in several different congregations. As above, at the same time that these folks were leaving, a host of new folks – with great attitudes – were joining our church. We elected to have a private meeting with our congregation’s leaders to talk and pray about what had happened, instead of “airing our dirty laundry” in front of our rapidly changing congregation.
- How much do they know?
Similarly, after some staff departures, most in the congregation know very little about the situation, while in others, many persons know (or think they know) a great deal about the situation. Would it be fair to say that “Greater public knowledge requires greater candor”?
In a heartbreaking scenario, the senior pastor was – with great sadness – dismissed by the board. In a carefully led congregational meeting, the members present were told that the pastor had informed the board that he was leaving and then stayed on for an ever-deteriorating period of ten brutal months, with no end in sight. As the pastor’s untreated depression – for which he had refused treatment – was evident to all, very little needed to be shared by the board.
- Is anyone asking, objecting or grieving?
So how do we sort this out?
Here are two suggestions: (a) I know I always say this but, “pray like crazy.” God promises His wisdom and His Spirit’s guidance to those who are unequivocally ready to heed His counsel, (b) The situation should be carefully, calmly and candidly talked through by the church’s leadership team. How the “Pastor Tom” situation is handled needs to be decided by a team, a group, not by one almost-but-not-quite omniscient senior pastor.
As He is always willing to do, God will guide you through the dark valley (Psalm 23:3,4) of “Pastor Tom’s” departure.