I recently had the privilege of attending the installation service of a new pastor in our district. I have, through the years, attended several pastoral installation services. This one was much more significant to me, however; I was an active member of the ceremony, praying a blessing over the couple who would take the church I had pastored for the previous four years.
Six months earlier, I was dreaming, planning and praying about where we would be going as a church, and was seeing great things on the horizon for our fellowship. I always envisioned myself in the picture until I got a call from my home church back in Wisconsin. We wanted to lead well, and finish well, through the transition.
Based on this experience, I would make the following recommendations to leaders who are entering the transition process.
1. Pre-Communicate to Leaders
I broke most people’s No. 1 rule when leaving a position, to not let anyone know what is going on until it is all set. I did not see lots of secrecy in the Bible, so I decided to let people know that we were considering a transition even before we had an interview.
I talked with our elders, the main ministry leaders and my district supervisor. I needed these people to pray, discuss and struggle with me during this huge time in my life. We did life together, and I felt it disingenuous to stop at this point.
You cannot lose by telling people you are feeling God stirring new things in you. If you do move on, you have honored others by letting them in on the process, and it will not come as a shock. If you stay, you are a hero and have let them know that you have confirmed your current place of calling.
2. Over-Communicate to the Church
Once a decision is made, let people know. Have your letters and announcements written and ready to go. I had several different letters ready to go based on the decision we were going to make. The best person to tell your story is you. People will fill your silence or lack of information, and the best way to combat that is tell your story.
Most of us pastor people who communicate in many different ways. It is our responsibility to communicate in their preferred methods, not ours. This is a lot of work, but you need to send emails, texts, blogs, snail mail, smoke signals and carrier pigeons if need be to make sure everyone in your church feels they are in the know.
3. Offer Your Assistance
Because I was leaving on good terms, I offered to help in the transition. As always, pastors serve at the pleasure of Foursquare and the district supervisor, so I offered my services. I just assumed, “What leader does not want a little help with the legwork?”
Because we had created an environment of honesty and openness with one another, I was involved with the meeting with our supervisor and council. It was not awkward at all when they talked about what they would like in a pastor, what things I lacked and where my strengths were. This was not new information for me, because we had already discussed it.
4. Plan People Not Events
The worst thing an outgoing pastor can do for a new pastor is hand him or her a binder of events and plans. We do this out of a desire to serve him or her and get things in order, but I have found this to be counter-productive.
A transition is a time to pare things down to the essentials and focus on people. It is not the time to start a new ministry or overly plan something that is coming in the future. In hindsight, I would have given a short-term job to everyone in the church before I left.
Find some reason for people to stay connected. Just a couple of months later, I found the ones who did not have a project were the ones who did not seem to stick. Spend your last days planning where people will be serving the church, and leave the other stuff up to the new pastor.
5. Give Immediate Authority
The day we announced who the new pastor would be was the day I became the associate pastor. Many times pastors will step down on their last Sunday or the day they leave town. I think we need to step down whenever the announcement comes. For me, this was almost two months before the installation service. Once a name is announced, it is your job to elevate that person, both publicly and privately.
I called the new pastor and let him know he had an associate pastor for a couple of months, and that I would serve him in whatever way he needed. I ran all messages, emails and communications past him.
The new pastor will usually have a role he or she is trying to complete, so most are excited someone else is running the church. But don’t let anyone, including yourself, be tricked into thinking you are still in charge.
6. Be Flexible
Many things in transitions do not go as planned. It is good to have guides and contingency plans, but don’t get bent out of shape if they go sideways.
Transitions are hard. When Paul cried with the elders of Ephesus on his way out of town, it was because he had cared for them with vigorous love, had endured so much with them, and now was transferring the leadership to others. He did not desert them, nor did he stay too long. He released new leaders, and then got in the boat and left town.
I am so glad I had the opportunity to experience leading through transition. I have a greater heart for those I left and the leader who will guide them. That Sunday morning installation service would prove to be one of the proudest moments in my ministry. It was an amazing opportunity to pray for the man who would follow me, and then get in a moving truck and leave town with a smile of gratitude on my face.
By: Joseph Fehlen, formerly senior pastor of Word of Grace (Everett South Foursquare Church) in Everett, Wash., now serves as associate pastor at Grace (Rhinelander Foursquare Church) in Rhinelander, Wis.