The Beautiful Mess of a Successful Leader’s Leaving

My friend, Rob Wegner, announced to our church in September that he is leaving.

Nineteen years ago when I joined the staff at Granger, a new church meeting in a movie theater and averaging less than 300 each weekend, there were only five people on staff. And Rob was one of them.

For the entire time I’ve been at Granger, Rob has been a rock star. He’s been foundational to our movement and at the core of our vision. He’s lived a life of integrity every step along the way. His beautiful wife, Michelle, has been by his side leading and supporting through every mountaintop and valley experience. I will be forever grateful for being able to live and work in Rob’s shadow for nearly two decades.

I will talk more about Rob on another day. But today, let’s think about how a church should respond when a respected and honorable leader chooses to go somewhere else. And why is it that so many churches get this wrong?

Here is a typical cycle…

  1. John, a leader at First Church, has served faithfully for a number of years.
  2. He decides he wants to do something else, and might even say, “God is calling me to do something else.”
  3. The pastors and leaders get their feelings hurt that he is leaving. It feels like, “John doesn’t want to play on our team any more. He took his ball and his bat, and now he’s going to play on a different team.” It feels very personal.
  4. Emotions run very high. Words get said. Insinuations are made. People are reactive. Focus goes toward what John doesn’t like or why John isn’t staying.
  5. Others in the church take sides. “Yeah, we agree with John!”
  6. All the right words are said publicly, but in the hallways of the church, a cloud has developed over John’s departure. Some of John’s work over the years begins to be discounted. His motives are questioned.
  7. John leaves feeling like he got kicked in the gut. He was trying to do the right thing but feels like he’s abandoning the people he loves and damaging relationships he cherishes.
  8. The remaining leaders feel like they got kicked in the gut. Their associate for so many years is going off to do something else and is beginning to talk about what why he wants to do something different. It stings.
  9. For months, every time John’s name is brought up, there is a tinge of pain and discomfort.
  10. John leaves feeling like he not only walked away from a ministry where he gave a part of his life—but he also lost some dear friends.

Ugh. Why does it have to be this way?

The truth is, it doesn’t. But the alternative takes really hard work. I talked about this more at the Innovate Conference last month. Here are a few quick thoughts:

To the church…

  • It’s okay to be sad.
  • You have to sequence your communication carefully.
  • You will be emotional, but rise above it when you are making decisions.
  • Err on the side of grace. Even though you are sad they are leaving, do everything you can to bless them.
  • Focus on the years they have served at the church—not the days or weeks after they said they are leaving.

To the individual leaving…

  • Don’t convince yourself you are more righteous than the people you are leaving.
  • Be humble and gracious.
  • Say “thank you” in every conversation.
  • Don’t try to fix the church in your closing conversations. If you couldn’t fix it as a staff member, you are definitely not going to be able to fix it on your way out.

There is so much more to be talked about, which I will do next month. But for now, just let me say that if you want to see someone who gets this and is leaving well—watch Rob Wegner. He has walked with care and love and a high regard for his family and church every step of the way.

These situations are going to be messy. A “good leave” is not defined by lack of mess. It is defined by how both sides respond to the mess and work through it with love and grace.

Have you watched some bad departures? Seen any good ones? I’d love to hear your story.

Read more from Tim here.

Download PDF

Tags: , ,

| What is MyVisionRoom? > | Back to Leadership >


Tim Stevens

Tim Stevens

For more than 17 years, I have been on staff with Granger Community Church. It has been a privilege to watch the church grow from a congregation of 350 meeting in a movie theater–to a world-impact ministry reaching more than 6,000 locally and tens of thousands around the world. Outside of my family, the most important place I invest my leadership, time and energy is to the staff and congregation at Granger.

See more articles by >


What say you? Leave a comment!

Josh — 11/19/13 3:47 am

I had the honour of being part of an amazing transition of Pastors when briefly serving at a church before planting where the Pastor spoke for 10 weeks in a row just for five mins each service on how to receive a new leader, what could be expected/challenges/living with grace etc. It was genuinely amazibg to watch as he brought in the new leader weeks early and they transitioned the last bit togethed

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Thank you for this information. I'm going to use this article to improve my work with the Lord.
— Abel Singbeh
comment_post_ID); ?> Thank you Ed for sharing your insights into the Church Growth Movement. I have my reservations with Church Growth models because it has done more damage than good in the Body of Christ. Over the years, western churches are more focused on results, formulas and processes with little or no emphasis on membership and church discipline. Pastors and vocational leaders are burnt out because they're overworked. I do believe that the Church Growth model is a catalyst to two destructive groups: The New Apostolic Reformation and the Emerging Church. Both groups overlap and have a very loose definition. They're both focus on contemporary worship, expansion of church brand (franchising), and mobilizing volunteering members as 'leaders' to grow their ministry. Little focus on biblical study, apologetics and genuine missional work with no agenda besides preaching of the gospel.
— Dave
comment_post_ID); ?> Thank you for sharing such a good article. It is a great lesson I learned from this article. I am one of the leaders in Emmanuel united church of Ethiopia (A denomination with more-than 780 local churches through out the country). I am preparing a presentation on succession planning for local church leaders. It will help me for preparation If you send me more resources and recommend me books to read on the topic. I hope we may collaborate in advancing leadership capacity of our church. God Bless You and Your Ministry.
— Argaw Alemu

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.