How to Be Proactive About a Pastoral Transition


Pastoral transitions are never easy. There are a number of reasons they occur – your pastor is retiring, transitioning jobs, moving, or being asked to step down. Regardless of the purpose, the fact remains that pastoral transitions are tough on everyone; your congregation, your staff, and your volunteers.

While you can’t avoid all of the challenges associated with a pastoral transition, there are certainly things you can do to be proactive about the transition and to set yourself up for a smooth change.

Being Proactive About Pastoral Transitions

If you’ve worked in a church for any amount of time, you know how difficult it can be to even get small decisions made. It seems like everything is a decision-by-committee. Correspondingly, everything takes time, and it may often feel as though people are speaking into decisions they have no concern over or involvement with.

With that in mind, the most important thing you can do before tackling a pastoral transition task is to figure out how decisions will be made, which leads to the first point…

Select a Transition Team

Before any major decisions are made, the first thing that needs to be done is to select a transitionary team. And while you may have strong opinions on what needs to happen and who should be a part of the team, it’s best to get people of different involvement levels in on the search.

If you’re, say, an executive pastor, you may have a much more informed view of potential candidates and what the church needs from an administrative standpoint, but you won’t see the candidates solely through the eyes of congregation members, which is equally important.

That’s why it’s so important to get people involved from several different areas. Have a congregation member, administrative staff, leadership teams, worship pastor and/or worship team members, an elder board member, etc. Don’t make the team too big, but cover your bases so more perspectives are taken into consideration in finding a new pastor. It will help to cover blind spots that any one or two of you may have during the search process.

Come Up with Interim Solutions

Your first concern should be to make the transition as smooth as possible for the congregation. And that doesn’t just mean filling space until a new person is hired. You want your church to continue growing through this transitionary period. So, what does that mean? Figure out an interim solution.

If you have several pastoral staff that can cover weekends for the next few weeks, get them involved in helping out. Have a few people spearhead a sermon series idea to make sure that Sunday morning messages are directed and the message remains controlled and relevant for attenders. If you’re planning on bringing in an interim pastor (which I’d highly recommend,) figure out what the lead time is that you’ll need before you get them in and plan on coming up with ideas for a sermon series and trajectory until you have an interim pastor. In other words, avoid random untargeted messages for weeks on end until you get someone in to help out.

Don’t Rush the Search

Obviously, everyone feels they are under pressure with a transition as big as a lead pastor change, but it is so crucial that you don’t rush the search process. In fact, not only is it dangerous because of the possibility of skipping out on important details – people are also just generally hasty in the early parts of the search process and there’s a good chance you’ll make a bad call based on gut reactions and feelings.

Take your time with the search process. It’s a good idea to lay out a road map. How often will the search team meet? How many weeks will be devoted to coming up with a job description, posting the job, and accepting candidate applications? How long will you spend interviewing the first batch of candidates? Will there be one interview, or a phone interview and in-person interview with those you choose to move forward in the process with?

You’ll need to be flexible, as these things can take a long time to come to fruition, but it’s smart to at least put a schedule in place for the search team to understand how much time should be devoted to the early parts of the process.

Not only does this bring organization into the mix; it actually helps to clear everyone’s mind from making rash calls and quick judgements on candidates or search process activities.

Final Thoughts

Pastoral transitions can be difficult, but it’s important that you remain hopeful in prayer and patient through the transition period as you look for a new lead pastor for your church.

Be proactive in setting up a search team comprised of people from several different places within your church, and come up with a road map for the search process to set expectations and avoid rash calls. And through all of this, remember that your congregation still needs to be shepherded during this season. Even as you search for an interim pastor, don’t negate the importance of coming up with a sermon series if necessary and giving your congregation consistency in the messages they hear each week.

Chris Fleming, Author

About the Author

Chris Fleming is a professional musician from Minneapolis, MN who has played with artists such as TAYA, Big Daddy Weave, and Jason Gray. He is actively involved with the worship music scene and has contributed as a drummer, music director, song writer, and producer for various worship artists and churches locally and nationally. Chris is the Motion Designer at Motion Worship, helping to create motion background collections and countdowns for our subscribers.

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