Sometimes, You Have to Say Goodbye

Leadership-MattersI am the pastor of a small country church in rural Georgia. The town is so small that we literally have more cows in the city limits than we do people. But, I now have a loving and caring congregation whose focus is reaching out to others in our area to provide assistance, comfort, and love so that they may know the love of God. But it was not always this way.

During my first year of service at this church, I experienced the typical “honeymoon” period where everything was going well. But after that period, slowly the whispers behind my back began to come to my attention. Some did not really like my preaching style anymore. Some felt I was “too biblical.” The person who volunteered to lead our youth group did not like it that I corrected him when he told the youth things that were not biblical sound stating he had the right to interpret the Bible any way he wanted. When I finally put my foot down and said he could no longer teach our youth because of his misleading teachings, he and his whole family began a whisper campaign to have me removed from the pulpit.

So what do you do when you are in a new leadership position and you have a person or some people on your team or in your organization who are not willing to accept the changes that you bring and begin a concerted effort to undermine your authority? You have to take action to correct the situation and you have to do it quickly. Let’s see why that is important.

  • It is not about you. The first thing you have to understand is that it is not about you so do not take it person. The problem is the person or people attempting to erode your authority and in most cases, these are the marginal employees. They are so afraid that you will find out just how little they contribute to the success of the organization and they fear this will lead to you dismissing them. So, do your best to identify these people early in your transition period and begin the process of helping them become more valuable to the team by evaluating their strengths and weaknesses, capitalizing on the strengths, and helping them overcome their weaknesses. This should reduce their fear and should let them see you are dedicated to their success which will lead to the success of the organization. But if they refuse to change and accept your help, then say goodbye to the problem.
  • You will never get the needed changes in place to create success. You have either moved into this new leadership position because of a promotion or you have been hired to bring about needed change. But, when you have people questioning everything you are attempting to do and they are doing it behind your back, you will constantly be faced with resistance. So, ensure you plan for this and take the necessary steps to mitigate their efforts. Gather your team before you implement any change and explain the who, what, where, when, and how behind your decision do go in a new direction. Solicit their input on ways to make a smooth transition so they feel a part of the process. Together, create a plan to bring the change to a reality so that they have a stake in the success of the venture. Finally, thank them for their support and valued input. But if after this, any member of the team refuses to get on board with the change, then say goodbye to the problem.
  • You will lose the confidence of your supporters. When the team members who are willing to support you and help you succeed keep hearing negative comments from detractors and they do not see you taking the necessary actions to bring this behavior to an end, then slowly but surely you will lose their support. So, when you have done the above actions and someone continues to snipe at your authority, you need to be direct and bring them in for a counseling session (see my three articles on counseling HERE). Use the progressive process outlined in these articles. If your counseling sessions do not bring about change, then say goodbye to the problem.
  • You will no longer be seen as the leader. Finally, I have seen leaders just ignore the backstabbers thinking that over time, they will come around. Trust me, this will not happen. The end result was the person was no longer seen as the leader by their team and their superiors soon lost confidence in them. So their superiors did what the leader should have done – they said goodbye to the problem.

So how did I change things at my little church. I preached a sermon on Paul’s letter to the Galatians where he wrote the following passage. “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:14-16, NASB)

At the end of the sermon, I said this. “So, if you feel this is the church where God has called you to serve, then you need to support the work of this church and help me share the Gospel message accurately to a world that desperately needs this Good News. But if you do not feel called to serve and support this ministry, I am going to miss you but you need to move on and find that church where God needs you to serve.”

Did I lose some people? Yes, because they were focused on their version of religion and not on their relationship with our Heavenly Father. Did things change for the better? Yes, because the people who stayed were willing to humble themselves and serve God based upon the truths stated in His Word, the Bible – and this has brought in new people. Will we ever be a mega-church? No, but we will work together to accomplish the mission of sharing the Good New with others through outreach programs that open the door to sharing our faith.

If you are going to be an exceptional leader, you must be willing to eliminate problems so that you create a team that is motivated by your vision for success and are excited to be a part of the adventure.


Len Bernat
Len Bernat
LEN is a leader groomed by 20 years of molding and shaping by some of the finest leaders in the United States Marine Corps. Their guidance helped Len realize his full potential as he moved from an enlisted Marine to becoming an Officer of Marines. Len became known for being the leader who could turn any lackluster organization into a strong, functional unit. Upon his retirement, Len worked in several positions before finally starting a second career in governmental procurement. His experience and leadership skills enabled him to be recognized as the 2011 Governmental Procurement Officer of the Year for the Governmental Procurement Association of Georgia and opened doors for him to teach at many of the association’s conferences. Len was also called to the ministry and was ordained at Ashford Memorial Methodist Church in November of 1999. Today, Len is the Pastor of Maxeys Christian Church in Maxeys, Georgia. Len has been married to his wife, Hazel, for 36 years and they have three daughters, three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Grab your copy of Len's new Book – Leadership Matters | Advice From A Career USMC Officer. Using his life experiences as examples, Len takes the eleven principles of leadership and the fourteen traits every leader should possess—which he learned during twenty years in the Marine Corps—and teaches the reader how he was molded and shaped by some of the best leaders the Corps had to offer.

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    • Larry – Thanks. It is one of those dark moments in life that each of us face. In the end, we can learn and come out stronger if we are guided by principle and focused on the success of the team.

  1. This is a common plot to TV shows that ran for several seasons. They always Disney-fy the phases, while in reality it can be very harsh where people do get fired.

    As a leader you must act fast to reduce the erosion of your authority. With every day to delay it takes weeks to re-establish your leadership.

    • Chris – I wish this was a Disney story but I had to deal with the reality of this situation – and it broke my heart to have to take this stand but as you said, one must deal with the challenge to one’s authority quickly. Thank for your feedback.