Leadership Breakups: A Better Way?

I am an idealist about church leadership breakups.  I keep hoping that Paul’s injunction in Ephesians 4:1-6 could be the guiding strategy when church staff members resign or have to be let go.

 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called– 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

What I often see instead is defensiveness, anger, harsh words, disappointment, disillusionment, and turf protection.  How could it be played out differently?

I keep hoping that all the parties in the separation would get in the same room to discuss what will be said to protect the reputation of the church and the individual who is departing.  Wouldn’t it be possible to hammer out an agreement that will honor God and edify the church?  I know that most of the time the whole story cannot be told for a variety of legal and ethical reasons.  But can’t people come to an agreement about what will be said publicly, so that the church flock would not have to speculate about the reasons for the separation?

I especially grieve for younger believers who keep holding out hope for healthy conflict resolution guided by the gospel and God’s Word.  Should not the shepherds of God’s flock have them in view when dealing with a separation?

My idealism extends to speculation about how Paul and Barnabas would have talked about each other after their sharp disagreement described in Acts 15:36-40.

Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.”  Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.  They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.

I want to believe that if you asked them a week later what happened in Antioch they would have said of the other, “He’s a godly man who loves Christ.  We had a major disagreement over John Mark and we separated.”  Maybe they winked and said, “He was wrong, but I still love him and believe God is going to use him to proclaim the gospel.”

I’ll keep hoping for my ideal but will do my best to protect the reputation of churches and leaders even when I wish their separation would have gone differently.


About Ron Marrs

Ron Marrs is presently a Professor of Youth and Pastoral Ministry and Chairman of the Center for Ministry and Leadership at Western Seminary, Portland, OR. Ron is the leader of the Portland Youth Workers Network. He served at Westwood Baptist Church, a Converge church, for 24.5 years primarily as the youth pastor and then as executive/worship pastor. He has been married to Becky for 35 years, has three children and three grandsons. He is an elder at Hinson Baptist Church. He recently completed doctoral research in which he interviewed 26 people about their rookie youth pastor experiences along with 24 of their supervisors.

2 thoughts on “Leadership Breakups: A Better Way?

  1. Ron, thanks for these good thoughts about disagreements and separation. In the case of Paul and Barnabas, I don’t think either of them was wrong. They just had a different perspective on the matter of John Mark. God worked providentially to bring about two missionary teams instead of one. Your hypothetical conversation between them a week after the incident is the kind of honest and respective discussion we pray for!

    1. Thanks, Carl. I agree that neither of them was declared wrong according to the text. There are those who argue that one of them was but I don’t see it in the text. Always the challenge to walk that line of law and grace with all of us leaning one way or another it seems

Comments are closed.