5 Insights To Leading Your Pastor Search After A Moral Failure


It is next to impossible to be prepared for the hurt and shock you feel when a church leader disappoints you. You feel confused and betrayed. And if you’re on the pastor search committee, you’re tasked with the daunting mission of finding a new pastor and leading your church through the pastor search process while you may still be healing on your own.

Pastor search committees often feel paralyzed with fear when beginning the search process following a moral failure because they don’t want it to happen again. What can you do to rebuild trust during the pastor search process?

Let St. Augustine’s words encourage you: “Trust the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love, and the future to God’s providence.”

Here are five ways to lead your pastor search committee and your church through times of difficult transition:

1. Trust in God, not in man.

Psalm 118 reminds us that it’s better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans. Actively trusting in God may seem action-less, but it is not impact-less. Remind your search committee and congregation to continually put their trust in God. Walk through the steps we included in our article How to Keep Christ the Center Of Your Pastor Search Process together. Your church will be looking to your pastor search committee for hope. The peace that comes from focusing on God’s faithfulness is powerful, contagious, and a testimony to the truth that faith is the certainty of the things unseen.

2. Seek closure regarding the outgoing pastor.

It’s normal to feel anger toward the outgoing pastor after a moral failure, but staying angry will not bring healing or restore the trust needed to healthily move on. Spend time as a search committee seeking closure. That may include bringing in an outside expert or counselor to help walk you through the stages of grief so you can identify and communicate your feelings individually and as a committee. As you proactively seek closure and lead your church in that process, you will have a much smoother pastor search process.

Most importantly, ensure your leadership team is supporting the healing of the outgoing pastor. Many churches will pay for the outgoing pastor’s counseling process as well as his or her family’s counseling as well. It may be helpful to provide a generous severance package to the outgoing pastor to care for the pastor and his family during the transition.

Loving someone who has hurt you is easier said than done, but remember that your church’s reaction to your pastor’s failure can be a powerful demonstration of God’s love and faithfulness.

Search: The Pastor Search Committee Handbook

3. Reevaluate policies and processes.

Are there any changes your church can make to safeguard from the situation happening again? What are some blind spots that might have led to the moral failure? Are there processes in place to maintain the emotional and spiritual health of your church staff? Are there policies to establish accountability? This article will help you ask the right questions about boundaries that may need to be put in place for the next pastor to help protect his emotional and spiritual health. If it’s not already, make an emotional/spiritual health check part of your staff reviews.

Be cautious that your self-reflection doesn’t turn into a blame-game. Make it clear to your leadership team that the goal is to restore the church, not to divide or place blame. Keep your team focused on the vision and mission of your church through every step of the process.

4. Rebuild trust in your church culture.

Absence of trust is a deadly symptom of an unhealthy church. Unfortunately, an incident of moral failure can be detrimental to the culture of trust at your church. Be intentional about reestablishing trust among the staff, pastoral search team, and the congregation.  Dedicate time for church prayer and worship events, both congregational and for the leadership team. Consider a church staff retreat with the purpose to rebuild trust, seek God’s direction, and connect with each other.

5.  Use thoughtful communication.

It’s a messy, frustrating, and embarrassing task to communicate what has happened, and it can come with serious consequences. You may experience people leaving the church or that potential new pastors are hesitant to consider the opportunity to be the pastor’s successor following a moral failure.  

But hiding facts from your congregation and the candidates will only make the matter worse. On the other hand, a thoughtful, unbiased, and humble perspective will help build the confidence of the congregation and the candidates. Our Consultant Jay has shared some tips about this in How To Deliver Bad News To Your Church.

It’s also important to bear in mind that recovery takes time. Allow yourself and your church time to heal, with the assurance that God is in control.

Dealing with the aftermath of a moral failure is no easy task. There is no simple step-by-step instruction to navigating the transition with truth and grace. Have a learner’s mindset and let God teach you how to lead your church in times of healing.

Have you recently experienced a moral failure on your church staff?

If you liked this, you’ll also like What To Do When Church Leaders Disappoint You.