Not too long ago I was sitting on our back deck enjoying my coffee and watching the sunrise light up the front range of the Rockies with a pink glow. That’s when I noticed a herd of deer trying to cross the 4-lane thoroughfare behind our home.
Now I’ve observed lots of deer near roadways before and I could tell they were skittish. They weren’t quite sure which way to go. They would look back from where they had come and then nervously watch the cars go by. Finally a big buck darted across the road and all of them followed to the “safety” of a big field on the other side.
But then they saw a man walking his dog nearby and that caused them to scatter. Some ran back across the road, others took off across the field and one doe went it alone down the sidewalk.
All they wanted was safety, some nourishing grass to eat and a place to lay down and rest. Yet they were being driven by what they perceived were threatening circumstances.
The pastoral transition in a church can easily create a similar environment for the leadership team: the temptation to be driven by threatening circumstances. Our senior pastor is gone….
- Who is going to teach and preach on Sunday mornings?
- Who is going to step into the leadership vacuum and make decisions?
- What happens if people start leaving for other churches?
- What will we do if giving drops off?
- What will we do, giving has dropped off?
- What kind of pastor do we need next?
- How do we even begin to deal with the sense of loss; the hurt; the wounds; the divisiveness?
This is exactly where the right intentional interim pastor can step in and help the leadership team move forward with confidence in an uncertain season. And, to avoid the pressure of being driven by threatening circumstances. He helps the leadership team see the wonderful opportunity that is in front of them. For the transition can be a growing time for the church as…
- The Lord gives a new sense of direction and focus.
- Wounds are healed and relationships restored.
- Hope is cultivated in what the Lord is going to do in the future.
- Dysfunction is addressed so the level of spiritual health increases.
- New leaders are trained who will support the growth of the church.
- The body experiences a renewed sense of unity as they links arms with each other and look forward instead of back.
An experienced and trained intentional interim pastor can, by their leadership, coach and mentor a church through the transition so they launch well with a new senior pastor into a future of Christ-honoring ministry.
One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.
-Andre Gide, French Novelist
When a church enters a period of pastoral transition it is a crucial time for the leadership team to ask some tough questions. The transition that lies ahead can get rocky. It will help for everyone to be on the same page by having a candid conversation to gain a clear view of the life and health of the church. These are not easy questions to ask because they demand honest evaluation, and they will reveal any elephants in the room. But the answers to these questions will help the leaders guide the church through this challenging period.
So fasten your seat-belt and work through the following together:
- What was the relationship between the pastor and the leadership team (elders, deacons, etc)? What was his relationship with the staff?
- What was the reason(s) the pastor left? Does everyone in leadership know the real reason(s)? Does the church as a whole know the real reason(s)?
- Did the leadership team and the church body have a different reaction to the pastor leaving? If so, why? What was the difference?
- Have people left because the pastor left? How many? Why did they leave? How involved were they in the ministry?
- Is other staff likely to leave in the immediate future? Are any of the current pastors going to be considered as the next pastor?
- How long has the pastor been at the church and what was the character of his tenure (especially in the last few years)?
- Where is the former pastor living now? What are his future plans? Is he attending the church? Is he still meeting with people in the church?
- How cohesive and/or united is the church? Is there any simmering or open conflict? Are there “parties” and what are the dividing-line issues?
- How capable and available is your current leadership team to manage the church and ministry details until the next pastor comes?
- Does the church have a clear sense of vision that gives direction to its ministries? Does the current leadership team have a high degree of ownership in that vision?
- Is the church generally united behind that vision?
- How does the pastor leaving impact the commitment of the church to the vision?
- What has been the history of growth in the church? What kind of growth has occurred (biological, transfer, salvation)?
- Are the leaders content with the status quo? Is the church content with the status quo?
- Do any major changes need to be made to the pastor’s job description before the next man comes? What are they? Why do those changes need to be made?
- Are there any changes in the church that need to be made before the next pastor arrives? What are they? Is everyone agreed that they need to be made? Does everyone agree that the current leadership team has the capability and availability to direct those changes?
What other key question would you suggest need to be asked. Leave your comment below.
After years of using Google Blogger I am making the jump to wordpress.org to host my platform. This will be the site church leaders will bookmark to find resources, help and encouragement to shepherd their local body of believers through a pastoral transition.
Check in with me regularly to watch the changes which will occur, and find the resources you might need.