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What to Say When the Youth Pastor Leaves

the-truth

It’s June. Professional youth ministries most dangerous month. I’ve served in three churches and all the hiring, firing, quitting, and retiring with the youth ministry seems to happen in June. It’s a wicked combination of the end of the school year and for a lot of churches, the end of the budget year. I could offer some theories as to why so many churches hire and fire in June… but that’s not the point of this post.

“What do we say when the youth pastor leaves?”

Church leaders: Tell the truth. If the person quit, just say they quit. You don’t have to spin it. Just tell it like it is.

But if you are firing them, I can’t tell you how many people I have talked to who were fired and then asked to enter into an agreement (never in writing) that for a sum of money they will say that they have decided to quit. Hundreds. If you are man or woman enough to fire a person than be man or woman enough to tell the congregation. You don’t pay severence to someone you are firing to cover up the fact that you are firing them. You pay them severance because they are self-employed and ineligible to claim unemployment benefits. It only makes matters worse when you fire a person and then put on a charade that you are sad to see them go. You throw a party, you say all sorts of glowing things in public when you know full well that you sat in a board room and decided this person needed to be fired. If you lie, your lie will be found out. Your sin will be exposed and the embarrassment you were trying to avoid will come back to haunt you for years. If you made a brave decision as the leadership of the church then it is a sign of your strength as leaders. When you try to wuss out, it shows what kind of leaders you are.

The truth always wins.

Church staff: Tell the truth. If the leaders of your church dismissed a person don’t ever lie about it. It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “The leaders decided to go another direction.” You don’t have to go into the specifics of why the person was fired. But don’t participate in the leaders lie if they are trying to spin the truth. That makes you party to the lie! Your corroborating the leaders story and remember, the truth will come out eventually. And remember, this is exactly how you will be treated if they let you go later.

The truth always wins.

Youth Pastor: Tell the truth. I have been in your shoes. I know what it’s like to have that meeting where the leaders tell you that you aren’t the person they want pastoring their kids anymore. I have felt my world crash around me in that moment. I’ve looked across that table when they told me what to say. They are going to wave a big check in front of your eyes and you are going to think, “How else can I feed my family? How will I pay my rent? How will I have enough money to get the heck out of here?Just don’t get bought by Satan. Think about it… would Jesus ask you to lie in His name? Not telling the truth is telling a lie! Church leaders who ask you to lie for a little bit of money are doing the work of your sworn enemy. Walk out of that meeting with integrity. Do not cave to their pressure and promise of financial security to further their lie. They will end up offering you the same severance check anyway… because it is the right thing to do and the congregation will demand it. Moreover, your telling a lie to the congregation will only make matters worse. They are trying to get you to take the fall because they know you are leaving the church.

Candidates for youth ministry positions: Find the truth. Your well-being and the well-being of your family and future ministry depend on you discovering the truth! If you are interviewing at a church you need to talk to the former youth worker. During the interview process ask the search committee about the previous person. Then ask for their email address or phone number so you may contact them. This is 2009, you can find them in 10 minutes on the internet. Be a detective and get to the truth as to why that person left. If there is a lie… don’t take the job. This is precisely how you will be treated. If the previous youth worker was fired and the pastor and the elders participated in that lie, confront them! No matter how good they make that job sound, that entire relationship will be based on lies unless they come clean. Confront their sin and then don’t take the job. Show them what a leader looks like.

Some may read this and think, “Boy, Adam McLane has a chip on his shoulder about this. You would be correct. I am sick of seeing my friends in ministry asked to lie for a few thousand bucks. I am sick of churches hiding the fact that have fired a person. I am tired of the Bride of Christ doing things that are worse– even illegal— than what happens in the business world. I know that a healthy ministry can only be built on the truth. And it is time to speak up and get some truth out there.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

32 replies on “What to Say When the Youth Pastor Leaves”

So true! Especially about the candidates. They need to do their homework. I’m seeing the same churches abuse and abuse and looking again and again.

Hey Adam,
Very passionate post! I totally agree with the passion for integrity for and in ministry, and it is a shame when churches and leadership participate in things like this.

I guess for me (the money excluded) depending on why i was leaving would determine how I left. I say that because, as a protector of the Bride I need to be senstive to the members and youth I am leaving behind… and yes it would be awesome for them to be able to handle the truth and all the emotions that could come from hearing how things went down… i guess (again solely depending on why i was leaving) i wouldn’t let them know why i was leaving or being fired/quit! i wouldn’t want to cause division that may be unneccassry to the development of the kids and the families… so i guess that falls under me being a lier! I just don’t want to ever be a catalyst for pain and division in a church!!! ever… that i think is even worse than the lie… could be… i’m just a young arrogant youth pastor…well i know i’m that so hahaha oh well. sorry to hear about your friends going through this kind of stuff. it does suck indeed and sadly not how the Bride should be acting

The ethic here is sound. While the norm may be to try and maintain untarnished authority, it is the disciples who show us how to lead imperfectly, but effectively, and Paul who boasts about his weaknesses. As Christ’s body, when something doesn’t work out, we need to represent the truth, which does not end up hidden for long. It is my hunch that Gossip an rumor follow the holes in the truth thy the lie presents.

@brit- truth always wins over a lie. Doesn’t the bride deserve the truth? As an adult, I totally understand that sometimes things don’t work out. But if I see political spin I instantly know I can’t trust that church.

@Adam, i agree, i guess i’m just playing symantics and thinking about the different reasons one might be fired and or leaving…
I guess i would have to say this though that some times the truth could be used in Sin! thats really deep i know, but i have seen in churches as well when people using the truth of a leaving staff memeber to totally destroy and betray the church! it is a hard balance to hold and to make sure that anger and condemnation doesn’t come about through the truth being told

Adam,

i am curious if we should put a boundary on how much to disclose to the youth?
can the youth handle the truth?

i have seen a few instances where the youth pastor got fired for theological differences.
the senior staff tried to communicate to the youth and the theological topic was sooo over the kids head and they were so confused.

at the end of the day, the youth pastor who is leaving is going to get thrown under the bus at some point– either in his/her farewell or after his/her departure. i think if a youth pastor is leaving for whatever reason he/she needs to embrace for the worst. they need to be prepared for the worst. unfortunately, the students are always hurt when their youth pastor leaves. for the students it seems that it is more about the youth pastor abandoning them, than it is why their youth pastor is leaving.

like you adam, i get extremely mad when a weak sauce senior pastor cannot communicate the truth for why he/she is letting a great youth worker go. and the worst is….. when they throw God under the bus by using a lot of pointless theological rhetoric to justify his/her decision to let the youth pastor go.

the great mike yaconelli said it best in “Getting Fired For The Glory of God: if the church has not made a rule because of it’s youth ministry the youth pastor is not doing youth ministry.

Never worry about the truth being a catalyst for pain and division in a church. Sometimes God will put us in uncomfortable positions and we have to appear to be the bad guy. Just remember never, EVER, under any circumstances treat church like a business. It is not lese majeste to tell the truth when the “leaders” of the church cannot.

Hey gang, love the comments! I just want to clarify… by telling the truth I don’t think you need to go into all the gory details. You can say, “The leaders have decided to let Adam go and go another direction. We prayerfully made this decision on behalf of the church. We are taking care of Adam. Please pray for him and his family during this trying time.”

Not sure why that is so hard for church leaders to do!

Interesting. I am in total agreement that being paid to lie is something that shouldn’t ever happen in a church setting. Having said that let me note what happened in my last job (in the media not the church). I was offered the choice. I could quit or be fired. No mention of any penalty one way or the other. I chose to “quit” for the good of the staff. We’d lost several other key players (I left with 17 years experience and from a management post) within the last 6 months. Employee morale was in the toilet and in my considered opinion it would be better for the ongoing work environment if I “quit”. So I wrote my letter of resignation, packed my box, got hugged on and walked out. Was it a lie? From a plain reading of the situation yes. I did not leave voluntarily, I was out the door one way or the other (and in the long view thank God for that!).

So did I do wrong? I’m comfortable with what and why I did it. Be interested in other thoughts.

Well in the circles that I am in…churches want to let people “resign” so that their long term ministry is not put into jeopardy. So much so that if a church calls the minister’s former church, the church will “lie” and talk about he/she resigning. The church I am at currently has had two youth ministers “resign” because of things they brought on themselves (character issues, etc.).
It’s a troubling situation, if a firing is warranted, then you should be fired. However, I think well meaning Christians want to protect everyone (the person, the church, and people), but even in that doesn’t make it right.

In thinking us, as regular human beings, can protect anyone is pure arrogance and shows a lack of faith. Thinking that we are going to protect youth by lying to them thinking they can’t handle the truth is deplorable. Teenagers face spiritual attack daily and to think they are any less deserving of truth is direspectful. I agree that airing gory details is pure gossip and should only be left to the person resigning or being fired to reveal on their terms.

Church != Business.

Adam –

I don’t disagree with your statements, but I find them incomplete. Let me explain.

I believe truth always must win against deception. However, I am not so sure truth wins against dividing a church. There are many passages in Scripture where this is spoken of as something to avoid at all costs.

As I read your post, I read it through the eyes of someone who has been in the shoes of the youth worker as well as someone who is now in the shoes of a lead pastor. I’ve watched three people step down off of my staff over the past few years for varying reasons, and not once have I fired them (mainly because I believe anything but sin can be resolved if both sides put energy into it – a separate topic, of course). But I’ve dug deep and wanted to be sure there was nothing other than home stresses (the reasons given) for why people were stepping down… the last thing we needed was for someone to say one thing to the remaining staff then grumble off to the side about other reasons.

Truth goes both ways.

Two out of those three people felt awkward sticking around our church as attenders. Again, another separate topic… but it makes people wonder if there was “more” to the story than what was shared.

I like what Bill Hybels once said about this issue. He said when people are let go, he tells them exactly how it will be presented to the church in a truthful-yet-discreet manner. If the person fired expresses they feel a need to have more disclosure, he echoes back, “That’s fine, but for however deep you feel the need to go on your end, it requires us to match that on our end.” (paraphrase)

As I said, I read your post with seasoned eyes. But I also guess how I’d read it through the eyes of being a young youth worker again. I’d find a reason in your words to stir a pot that doesn’t always need to be stirred. Sometimes poison gets mixed into the whole batch that could have been better scooped out had it been left in its original lump on the top of the pot.

We call that poison truth, but God calls it divisiveness.

So to recap – “truth versus lying” = truth! But “truth versus divisiveness” = Holy Spirit led caution.

Tony- excellent thoughts. See my comment above, I’m not talking about spilling all the gory details. I’ve found the people in the pews don’t really want them anyways. I’m talking about not asking the staff person to lie about their termination.

I’m right there with you about divisiveness. Certainly, any time you leave a position (for good or bad reasons) people feel the need to trash talk. That’s just not helpful.

My opinion is, if a person was fired (or quit) that should be stated in a way that everyone involved can comprehend. It may cause temporary discomfort, but in the end it’ll help greatly.

Great stuff Adam. My heart broke as I was talking to a friend who was telling me about being in a meeting a couple weeks ago where the leadership actually called his “fit” for youth ministry into question.

His response was the same as yours. If you are going to fire me, just tell the truth. If you want to go in a different direction, if I’m not fitting what you want, then let’s be honest about that. But don’t call my passion for ministry into question.

@Danny very well put! “truth is better than eloquence~Martin Luther”

@Brandon, i know thats where i want to stand in protecting the people and the church! i know some times its necessary for pain but not always. but your point about lieing during an interview is a huge thing. we had hired a guy who had mulested two girls and broken a former bosses nose on the job site. but we were never told by these other churches why he was let go… until we too saw his wrath on some students and having girls over to his how to swim… Adam is right in the fact that the truth comes out and who ever said it above about gossip filling the holes i think is very powerful.

@Tony i agree with you completely.
my point above was that you can’t make a sweeping statement that truth must be told… because there is some stuff that should not be told…
“I’m being forced to quit because your pastor is a coward and doesn’t like the way i preach and teach you guys, or this staff memeber is being unreasonable with this so i’m just going to go”… truth some times sets people against one another… and i have seen way to often a staff memember who is leaving pulling the truth pin on the grenade and throwing it in before they leave the church. I think that is cowerdly in that they don’t have to stay and clean up the mess…

but i don’t think that is the piece you are talking about Adam! should those remaining be open and honest… i think so to some degree… as i try to justify my thoughts for this i just feel there being so many variables and possibilties that make it complicated to say just disclose everything, somethings or nothing, which all have areas of truth…darn this relativism

Adam – I caught that… but the majority of your article was “truth” heavy. For a good reason, of course. But I hoped to throw some balance in there. Thanks for receiving the thoughts.

@Ken, man that is hard indeed! and gotta be very difficult! not knowing your friends specific situation, but i have been the other end questioning a youth pastors passion/desire/reasoning for youth ministry. it wasn’t for the purpose of firing but gauging him and see what his reasoning for doing ministry was! we had a lot of issues with how he was doing ministry/lack there of!

i think sometimes those calling into question is ok, but NEVER for the excuse of firing someone. it is so sad how we are like snakes and wolves to one another when ought not be!

I’m looking for a nice gig where I can lie for a few thousand bucks. Tony’s price is considerably less – a sonic burger?

@Brit I am only getting this from my friend, so I may not be totally accurate. From what he told me, they were saying it as a blanket statement instead of being specific. It sounded more like people were complaining to his supervisor and instead of trying to draw the two parties together, the sup was using this as fodder.

I agree that there are times when we need correction from a friend. however, I don’t think this was coming from a friend.

Romans 14.19 (out of context slightly)19Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
Now this is referring to eating and drinking but i think it is valid in how we respond to each other and handle ourselves in the church over all. Do we make every effort in our actions to edify the person and the church in some of the areas.

side note, i polled my students today about there thoughts. was pretty obvious they would want to the truth but not the point of hearing it if defamed someone else! they didn’t see the reason in letting them know if it mean that their opinion would drastically change of the person/s staying. now this isn’t a scientific method of questioning, i only polled 80 kids and 60 of them replied with similar responces… so we are right in saying that the students want the truth but as Adam said, not the gory bits!

Any ways, abosolutltly great talk i think, i still feel there are a lot of variables in that go into the situation of telling the truth/or what the deal is/ and how much you disclose and to whom.

It takes a wiser man to hold his tongue in times of chatter than to just run his mouth…
i love the proverb (Proverb 10.19) that i use for youth pastors and staff who are about to go into a discussion or arugment!
“Through many words come TRANSGRESSION, but the wise man will hold his words till it is right!”

The other perspective on the severence is where the leadership might be understanding that the fit for the position is not there and offers a substantial severence package to an employee as an opportunity to “agree” with that assesment and own his or her departure. Many times the negotiated communication is as much an effort to help the former employee rather than to cover up and lie. Often, it accurately gives an account while still affording the employee to find another job (without needing to say they got canned).

There is one prticularly important point thay Adam makes related to truth… In meetings, we must always operate under the simple understanding that eventually everything will come out. If we behave that way – both in word and writing, we can navigate leaving, being asked to leave or being the party doing the asking with our integrity and God’s Glory still in tact. The important thing is to not make sweeping judgements on anyone while seeing from only one perspective.

Great discussion. We recently let a number of people go from our staff. We too did the hybels thing. We told people the truth that they did not fit our future direction. People did not want to know why they didn’t fit, but appreciated that we were willing to say that much.

@ Eric – I know you’re being witty, riding this over from my Facebook page, but this is a serious thread. A lot of people (including myself) have been put into this position, and asking someone to lie (as I have been asked to over the years) cannot ever be in my DNA… I won’t allow it, even for a Sonic burger.

Well most of what you have stated above just happened to me. May 31st they came into my office and told me they had eliminated my position and gave me about 15 minutes to gather my things and escorted me out of the church like a Criminal. They LIED to the congregation and said I resigned and they LIED to me by telling me I would be able to get Unemployment. I got a check for one months pay and kicked to the curb.
Now my family and I have been put in the position of loosing our house and much more and the church just continues on like nothing happend. From my perspective I don’t know where God is in any of this. It is OK to LIE and cover up things in a church? Give me a break. At this point I don’t know if I want to be in Ministry anymore.

@e52e8e5ef57739ff7944f34c8d11e761:disqus I’m so sorry that this happened to you. I know that you know that this doesn’t reflect God’s heart or Christ’s love for you. But you need to hear it again and again and again.

I’m not sure what state your in, but they may have violated employment laws. Drop me a note at mclanea@gmail.com, I’d like to hear more of your story.

what would you say to parents as they help their teen process when a youth pastor (me) leaves on good terms to take on a new ministry in a different location. Good and healthy place, just the Lord leading me to a new place. Something as a resource for at home discussions I can send their way.

I just recently went through this very scenario. I’m a 58 year old youth pastor who was basically released in private and resigned by surprise,!! We had a large youth group that was vibrant and cared for each other. Still recovering from church love. I was told that my legal rights had been violated and that forced resignations aren’t legal if not at least immoral. I to was put on the curb as though I had molested someone. having been there seven years,it had the appearance that I might had done something wrong. Fortunately the students knew me so well they walked out in disbelief and said ” he wouldn’t resign,”. That is a blessing for me, but the church hardly acknowledged it. The pitch was ” he just felt led to other things”. Yeah like being broke– lol.

Sickening that this is a common practice. And we wonder why the decline of youth in church.

Oh some churches will put it in writing… but in that same document it will also say that you will not disclose the document to any other person, and that you will not use your knowledge of employment laws against the church. And when your family is in a financial bind because you gave up so much to go into youth ministry, they know you’ll do what you have to in order to support your family. I didn’t get fired, but so much of this article parallels my experience. I can only hope that some leader in our denomination will wake up and wonder why there has been a 64% staff turnover in our church’s staff in the last 15 months.

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