When the lead or senior pastor of a church exits, powerful rip-tides are unleashed! Those on the leadership team, tasked with handling this transition, often face intense pressure without any advanced preparation or training.
In addition, most pastoral transitions occur abruptly, leaving a church with a mosaic of emotions. So not only is the leadership team trying to deal with their own emotional reactions to the pastor leaving, but as shepherds the church needs help with theirs!
With both these internal and external forces in play, many church leaders don’t realize the initial decisions they make can actually sabotage the pastoral transition. Their choices may create a cycle where the church makes the same mistakes again….or, the wrong guy is hired as the next pastor….or, the sheep of the church are so shocked that significant numbers leave.
Good hearted people, with good intentions can make lousy choices. Few realize that pastoral transitions which are sabotaged have at their root four common beliefs. Any one, or combination of these, will derail the church from moving forward well.
- We can hire our way out of it.
It’s the belief that the problems of the church will be solved by hiring a new senior pastor. This business approach may work in the market place, but it rarely does in the church. In addition, it subtlety enforces two significant errors. First, that the problem surrounding the pastor leaving was completely the blame of the pastor. And second, that the health and vibrancy of the church is solely shaped by the pastor.
- Get it over as soon as possible.
This is the belief that a pastoral transition is an inconvenient interruption in the life of the church (ie. like getting the flu). People fear losing momentum, losing attendance, and losing income. So the decision is often made to get the search process up and running as quickly as possible. But losing a pastor is as painfully powerful as losing a spouse. Grief counselors advise, slow down and relax. Don’t make any major decisions for at least a year.
- Nothing needs to change around here.
This belief is a determination to hang on to the past. Typically, this is prevalent when the outgoing pastor had a good tenure and was well loved. Making any changes to the way he did ministry almost feels like a betrayal or being disloyal. Change is considered to be a dirty word, and leadership team agendas leave little or no room for discussion about it.
- Everything needs to change around here.
This belief is the flip-side of #3. Instead of hanging on to the past, its discarded. When a pastor exits and leaves a bad taste in most people’s mouths, everything he did and the way he did it becomes dubious. Even though he may have done many things right, there is a lack of objective perspective which leads to wholesale elimination of any reminder of his tenure.
Pastoral transition is often an awkward and confusing time. So it’s not the time for church leaders to fly by the seat of their pants, or they may end up sabotaging it. Before major decisions are made, get godly counsel….look into engaging an intentional interim pastor… gather the available resources, so you can lead with confidence amid uncertainty. Remember, pastoral transition is not a problem to manage, but a season to shepherd.
What other beliefs can leadership teams have which will sabotage pastoral transitions? Leave your comment below.
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