The Transition Pastor’s Process

More and more churches are choosing to hire a Transition Pastor to help them as they say goodbye to one pastor and look to hire the next. If you are curious about how this transition process works, then you are at the right place. (This post builds on a previous post: Do We Need a Transition Pastor?)

The process begins with the transition pastor getting to know the congregation and the way the church functions. They complete various assessments and evaluations to get a clear picture of what is really going on in the church. This is a helpful step whether the church is healthy or unhealthy, and whether the pastor left on good terms or not. These assessments are done with the whole congregation as well as the leadership and various ministry leaders. Often there are interviews of staff and members of the congregation to get a clear understanding of how things are going and what areas may need to be addressed. It is important to take some time to look back to make sure there are no issues that have just been “swept under the rug”, but adequately faced and dealt with. Unforgiveness for past mistakes will make it difficult to move ahead in a meaningful way.

The assessments can help the pastor know what to preach on. He can address current issues facing the church from scripture.

The first issue to acknowledge and address is often grief. The assessments and interviews will determine the level of grief, as the church is often mourning the loss of the pastor and his family. Often the preacher will focus sermons on the “one another” passages in scripture. These can help build on or restore much needed unity in the church.

After taking some time to look at the past and then getting a clear picture of the present situation, the pastor can move the church to start looking ahead to establish a clear vision for the church. This may include understanding the demographics of the church as well as the community it serves. It will include having vision meetings with both the elders and the church as a whole. My belief is that the vision a church develops usually does not vary much from where they have been in the past. The value of this practice is not so much in coming up with something unique for the next part or the journey, but in being able to clearly articulate their vision together.

This process is bathed in prayer, and builds on the assessments and understanding of the community the church feels called to reach. The vision guides the church moving ahead. Often, when a church goes through the process of hiring a new pastor, they do not have a clear vision and so the newly hired pastor moves the church in the direction of his own vision. This is not a bad thing, except each new pastor may go in a different direction. If the church can clearly identify a vision before they hire their next pastor, then they can hire a pastor that fits that vision.

For pastors looking for a position in a church, it helps to know what the church’s vision is so he can tell if he will fit there or not. I have taken a position in a church only to learn two years later that my vision and theirs were very different, opposite even. It is helpful to both the church and the pastor to be clear on this before being hired. It will prevent some pain in the future.

The completed assessments and articulated vision help the church know exactly what kind of pastor they are looking for. The transition pastor can help guide them up to this point and help them through the search process as well. One valuable tool the transition pastor can help the church with is developing their Pastoral Profile. All the other assessments and processes the transition pastor leads the church through really culminate in the clarifying their vision and determining what kind of pastor is needed to help them accomplish that vision. Without all the work leading up to this point, a church may not have a clear idea who will best fit their church. Too often there is just a pendulum swing where one teaching pastor with no shepherding skills is replaced with a shepherd with no teaching skills. A Pastoral Profile is built on all the work produced during the transition process so the church knows how to truly evaluate a candidate against their real needs.

The Transition pastor concludes their time with that church before the next pastor is hired.

If a church is between pastors, hiring a transition pastor will be of great benefit. Those months, up to two years, of a transition pastor leading a church through a transition process will be extremely beneficial in planning well for the next step of the journey for the church.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

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