by Sam Chand
Everyone talks about communication and seems to understand its importance, but very few organizations take the time necessary to organize communication—first internally, then externally. More than anything, a pastoral succession will reveal the effectiveness—or lack thereof—of a church’s communication processes, as the normal and predictable flow of ministry is disrupted by uncertainty, and people crave answers to their questions about the leader’s present decisions and future plans.
In our day and age, formal and informal communication are happening all around us. Informally, social media is a beehive of information. People want to impress others and give them the impression that not only were they the first to know, but they have proprietary information that others don’t. Disregard for facts, protocols, organizational health, and leadership is the norm. All of us have experienced breached confidentiality, especially in leadership. Not that we were trying to keep it a secret, but established, respectful, and even honoring protocols were in place.
If the leaders of the church are not proactive about communication, the informal channels will take up where they leave off—usually leading to confusion and the dissemination of incorrect information.
For example, if the church constitution and bylaws codify that a Pastor needs to give his or her resignation to the Board in a formal setting, prior to messaging it to anyone else, it is a total breach of process and dishonoring to the system if that Pastor chooses to communicate their resignation any other way. When this breach of communication occurs, it tells us that there are unresolved conflicts, relational impasse, and intractable circumstances forcing a deviation from expected communication.
Whenever a Pastor leaves, the people who remain are typically focused on the loss. Because of this, we must work hard to provide some reassurance for those who will receive the news. We should always consider ways to help them make adjustments. For example, we can focus on the successor’s qualifications. If necessary, we might want to address any concerns about job security. We need to talk about what’s coming next. It’s important to consider what can be said to give people a level of comfort in the face of change.
It’s especially important to focus on communication when stakeholders are involved. How the announcement is made to stakeholders—and the context it’s put in—will greatly affect their reactions and their confidence in the new leader.