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

Do We Need A Transition Pastor?

I am presently serving as a Transition Pastor. Some might wonder what that is, or why a church might need one. Many of you reading this are part of a church, and may be part of the leadership that needs to determine next steps after a pastor leaves.

When a pastor resigns and leaves his church, the church needs to determine next steps. Some questions to consider would be:

  • Should we immediately look for a new pastor?
  • What kind of pastor do we need next?
  • Should we get a Transition Pastor?
  • Are there things we need to work on to be ready for a new pastor?

A Transition Pastor

A Transition Pastor serves in the time between a church’s last pastor and the next one they will hire. He will generally sign a contract for nine months up to two years. The Transition Pastor’s main role is to make sure the church is healthy and ready for the next part of their journey, before hiring the next pastor.

 Another role is to help the church say goodbye to the previous pastor and some of the experiences of the past. If the pastor who left was deeply loved by the congregation, and if he served there for a long time, a new pastor coming in immediately would probably be regularly compared to the last pastor. I have had that experience in a few churches I served. A Transition Pastor can be a buffer, helping the church move on from the last pastor and be ready to accept the next one.

If there was a lot of pain and heartache that caused the previous pastor to leave in turmoil, the Transition Pastor can help the church heal and move on from that experience so they are ready to accept the next pastor God sends their way. This is part of the process of ensuring the church is heathy and ready to move on.

The Transition Pastor can also bring consistency to the congregation while they are looking for their next pastor. Instead of bringing in different local people to preach every Sunday, he provides consistent leadership that takes the load from the Leadership Board that volunteers to serve with already busy lives of their own.

Transition Benefits

If you are part of a church that is in between pastors, I would highly recommend hiring a Transition pastor. They will help you say goodbye to the previous pastor and that chapter of the church. They will help you be healthy and ready for the next chapter. The Transition Pastor can focus in on the issues that will bring health in a way that a new pastor can’t, as they are responsible to deal with all aspects of the church.

The Transition Pastor is a trained specialist who can address much needed assessing and re-visioning that not every pastor is equipped to do.

The Transition Coach

Not every church that is between pastors will hire a Transition Pastor. Sometimes they opt to go with a Transition Coach. Churches that choose this option usually have others in the church that can continue to preach most Sundays and look after pastoral care of the congregation. This would most likely be a multi-staff church that may be looking for their next Lead Pastor while still having other staff running many aspects of the church.

The Transition Coach will do many of the same assessments and work through similar processes with the Elders, staff, and congregation. He will not be there every Sunday but will show up occasionally to work through different steps of the process. And he will be guiding the whole process, even suggesting topics or themes to address in the preaching. The one concern I have about choosing a Transition Coach is that this person is not as closely connected or intimately in tune with what is going on in the church in the way an on-site Transition Pastor is.

Are you in between pastors? Then consider hiring a Transition Pastor. You will benefit greatly!

Keep looking up

Andy Wiebe

*Click this link to connect with Andy about Transition ministry.