stages of grief in congregational leadershipToday’s entry is by guest blogger Dave Wasemann.

As I was coaching a pastor recently I had an insight:  I was hearing the pastor reflect the five stages of grief through leadership and membership of the congregation. Is it possible to glean insights from work done on a personal subject such as grief and expand from an individual to a group?

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief, taken from Wikipedia:

Denial — As the reality of loss is hard to face, one of the first reactions to follow the loss is Denial. What this means is that the person is trying to shut out the reality or magnitude of their situation, and begin to develop a false, preferable reality.

Anger — “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; ‘”Who is to blame?”; “Why would God let this happen?”

Bargaining — “I’ll do anything for a few more years.”; “I will give my life savings if…” The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow undo or avoid a cause of grief.

Depression — “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die soon so what’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one, why go on?” During the fourth stage, the grieving person begins to understand the certainty of death.

Acceptance — “It’s going to be okay.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.” In this last stage, individuals begin to come to terms with their mortality or inevitable future, or that of a loved one, or other tragic event.

One of the areas of my coaching is in redevelopment of congregations. The grief process should occur before the next pastor is called to the congregation, including deciding whether or not the congregation might continue or disband. If they decide to continue the scope of redevelopment, that means refocusing the congregation toward invitation and incorporation of disciples. This often fills the regional denominational leadership as well as the congregation with hope and joy.

Yet upon the arrival of the pastor redeveloper, leadership and membership can be resistant to the change necessary in them and through them in order to see new faithful days.  What arises in the back of their minds and hearts is a desire to go back to a past experience of thriving ministry.

As the congregation moves through the stages of grief, they can move to acceptance.  Ideally all of this should be done before the redeveloper arrives. It is a frustrating and sad experience to realize after arrival that in fact the membership as a bloc is not accepting redevelopment.