by EXPAND Consulting Partners
One hundred percent of Pastors will stop Pastoring at some time. Whether by choice, circumstance or death, all Pastors will relinquish their positions. This is a simple statement of fact that is often glossed over by Pastors because of fear of mortality, failure to prepare, unrealistic timing and lack of resources.
Transition occurs by design or default. Unfortunately, at least ninety percent of pastoral transitions occur by default. There is no plan in place to accommodate succession or transition. A Pastor announces retirement, passes away, experiences a moral failure or catastrophic event, and the Board then scrambles to find a replacement, with the urgency of time, not the fit of the candidate, being the major factor in recruitment. Little thought is given to this process ahead of time, although it is of crucial impact to the stagnation or growth of the church. In fact, very few bylaws address succession and transition in any meaningful way.
The lack of planning and clarity we describe above also leads to a corollary problem: a Pastor will overstay his or her anointing at a church. We have found that the number one reason a Pastor stays too long is that their “to” has not been defined. What do we mean by “to”? This is the planned and developed opportunity for the current Pastor. It may be assuming the role of Global Pastor, taking a leadership position in the denomination, moving to a nonprofit organization or any other number of roles. But there has to be something. Otherwise, even if a transition takes place, that Pastor will return by default and disrupt the new Lead Pastor. With this in mind, a transition plan is not just about finding a new Pastor; it is about creating a viable path for the exiting Pastor that honors his or her ministry and makes room for continued impact with clear expectations and boundaries—whether at the church he or she led or elsewhere.
Before transitioning, Pastors will need to embrace new identities by learning to be conscious of what they are leaving “from,” and where are they going “to.” If a transitioning Pastor doesn’t have a “to,” he or she will default to the “from.” Consider these questions:
· Where will they go?
· What will they do?
· If they stay in the church, what will and what will not be their new role?
Leadership stewardship is important. With the ultimate goal of advancing the kingdom of God, Pastors and Boards should seek to promote a succession process that encompasses all these facets, not just focusing on filling a vacancy. A future-oriented Pastor and Board will consider sustainability and scalability as a benchmark for stewardship, two factors which are overlooked but crucial in order to take a long view regarding the church. In other words, pastoral transitions are secondarily about an incoming and outgoing Pastor, but they are primarily about ensuring that “fruit should remain” (see John 15:16) and that the church remains viable, vibrant, healthy and growing.