When Your Church Loses Its Pastor

Republished with permission from Voice magazine, July/August 2012.

After the initial shock of hearing the words, “and my resignation is effective…” confusion is bound to reign for a while. What do we do after our pastor resigns? Generally, a pastoral search committee is formed to go about the task of finding another shepherd for the flock. But the congregation needs to do more than just seek another pastor. While it’s not as easy as A B C, the information that follows will help address other needs of the congregation.


Assessment comes in the form of asking questions, even the hard ones. Where are we as a congregation? Did the pastor leave under difficult circumstances? Were there moral, ethical or other problems that damaged testimonies? Is the congregation and/or board divided? What are the vital signs of the fellowship? What are the strengths and weaknesses? Does the church need outside help to be objective and put things back into perspective? Are there problems within the congregation that need to be handled? What will be the process? Are there relationships to be reconciled outside the church?


In many churches, the pastor’s salary and benefit package is a substantial part of the annual budget. The expense budget changes when a pastor leaves. There are now new expense items such as: possible interim pastor, pulpit supply, search committee expenses, expense of bringing in pastoral candidates, moving the new pastor to your community, fixing the parsonage, helping with the down payment on a house, etc. Reasonable effort should be made to anticipate these needs so that money can be wisely used. It is not a time that giving should drop off simply because the need to pay the pastor is temporarily gone.


Communication is one of the biggest problems on earth today. Good communication is important in churches with or without pastors. It is especially crucial in churches looking for a pastor. The leadership must communicate with the congregation and vice-versa. Communicate the following information: who is in charge, whom to call with a problem, what the plans are, in what timeframe will things take place, what changes are being made in plans previously made. Communication of feelings, expectations, ideas, and assessments is important. Ample communication with prospective candidates will help avoid problems. Don’t make assumptions that things are understood or agreed upon without talking about it.

Good communication is not gossip. Sharing confidential information, pet issues that become divisive, criticism or anything else that does not edify is gossip.


Develop a Biblical plan of action during the time you are without a pastor. The plan should be for a year or two. While the times for securing a pastor vary, it is a fairly lengthy and tedious process. A plan of action for growth, outreach, fellowship and worship will give the congregation direction and security. It will draw people together for common goals and encourage the use of spiritual gifts among the Body of Christ. Obedience brings joy and enthusiasm. Joyful churches are attractive churches.


Encourage one another through prayer and fellowship. Encourage loyalty to Christ, the church and to the Christian walk. Encourage involvement in the church’s ministries.


When a church loses a pastor for any reason, “feelings” will be present. People may have mixed feelings. There may be a sense of grief, depression, anger, bitterness, joy, hurt, fear, bewilderment, disappointment, disillusionment or other emotions. People’s relationships to the pastor vary and their feeling will differ accordingly. If emotions are “stuffed,” suppressed or incorrectly handled, deeper problems will develop that will hinder the next pastor’s ministry.


God’s work does not stop with the loss of a person, however important he or she may be. Verses normally applied to individuals are equally true for churches: “My grace is sufficient for you…I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me…If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God”—the verses are too numerous to list here. God is sovereign. His goal is a glorious church made up of people who are being conformed to the image of Christ. The process of dealing with the needs and problems of a congregation is as important to God as the goal itself. The commands in Scripture are God’s process to move us in the direction of His goal. During the time your church is without a pastor, allow God to refine you in the process of becoming Christ-like by squarely facing the issues you would not otherwise have to deal with if your pastor were present.

Paul Thyren and his wife, Marsha, have served Grace Bible Church since 2002. They have four children and four grandchildren. Pastor Paul is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute, Calvary Bible College (BS, 1970), Dallas Theological Seminary (ThM, 1974), and Grace Theological Seminary (DMin, 1996). He has also been a part-time teacher at New Tribes Bible Institute, Moody Bible Institute (Milwaukee), and Bible Colleges in Ukraine.


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There are 11 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture


This is easy to say in a large metro area. But there are qualifications for elders and finding men who are qualified and want the role may not be so easy in some places.

Jim's picture

I was thinking of your church even as I wrote that. The man there ... initials S.B. strikes me as an elder


But your point is well-taken

cdbrauns's picture


Thanks for your excellent thoughts on this. Given that I wrote a book on the subject, you know that I think pastoral transitions are an area which are tremendously important.

One of thing things I wrote about in When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search is the need to be Word-centered in how you involve the congregation and teach. Surveys teach. We should not just ask the congregation what they want in the next pastor, but rather should take them to a book like Titus and use that time to teach them.

Unity requires a center, and that center must be Christ and His Word.

Thanks again for some excellent thoughts.

Chris Brauns



James K's picture

A church should not function without at least 2 elders.  If one resigns, the other should continue until another can be recognized.  It is pitiful that any church would only have 1 elder in it, pitiful.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Steve Newman's picture

I pastor a church as the "second pastor" from a startup. We have one adult male that is a member - me. I don't consider that disgraceful. I don't love it, but Lord willing, it will not continue to be the case much longer. Prior to coming here, I was a deacon in a church that had very short stints between pastors (usually around 2 months or so) because of excellent lay leadership. There needs to be a very organized approach as mentioned above. We aren't all in a position to have a large base to lean on, and many churches are between pastors for 6 months to a year, or longer. I believe this could be reduced if there were more diligence in these areas. 

Ron Bean's picture

A local Baptist Church has a board of deacons. (And you had better not call them elders!) As the pulpit committee, they screen candidates, present their choice to the church, and the church votes for their recommendation. They selected Pastor A, who built the church from 300+ to 100 over 7 years and then split the remnant before his departure. They selected Pastor B who, after a brief tenure admitted to marital and gross sin problems and abruptly resigned. They are now looking for Pastor C. Prospective candidates will have to probe to discover the pastoral history. meanwhile the church is content with an endless parade of pulpit supplies.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

James K's picture

Steve, have you spoken to other churches about partnering with them to help stabilize your work?  Does the whole thing collapse if something happens to you?  If yes, then that is disgraceful.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

James K's picture

If a group of believers do not have qualified elders, it is hardly okay to refer to them as a church.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Aaron Blumer's picture


Church order is not really the topic here... but it might be worth pointing out that there is little detail in the NT concerning how many elders, how they are chosen, what you necessarily call them, etc. 

In any case, when planting or growing or just leading a church, you work with what you have and you don't have the power to create out of nothing what you don't have (or even out of something​, if there is not a desire for the office of bishop). But the point that pastors ought to try to reduce dependency on themselves and increase the competence of other church leaders is a solid one, and when there's a need to find new leadership it's hugely helpful to have some strong, godly men to be something like shepherds in the mean time.

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