I am at the outset of a nine-month or more transition for a church whose pastor resigned about a month ago. The church exists in a town that has had its share of ups and downs due to a fluctuating economy. Recently a major industry shut down causing a large number of people to become unemployed. Its effect on the church was that it lost more than a third of the congregation. Some who might choose to move during this time are unable to do so because of the amount of money they have invested in their homes. In the midst of this the youth pastor found it necessary to resign and soon after the senior pastor also felt compelled to resign due to mounting stress. The church has also sustained a significant crisis due to a number of untimely deaths over a period of time. I have been thinking and praying a lot about what my approach might be in this situation.
At the outset I am conscious of the fact that though there are common issues in every church transition each situation is different and requires a unique approach. Since the pastor continues to live in the community and to attend the church closure will be less easily defined. As it is, he is on a leave of absence from ministry and is quite happy to relinquish his role and responsibilities. But overall, the circumstances here make me feel very dependent on God’s help and intervention. Therefore, I sense the need to begin the transition with an emphasis on prayer in my own life as well as in the life of the church. I plan to work at seeking to encourage a prayer movement within in the church.
Secondly, I sense that the church body in this situation needs a good deal of pastoral encouragement concerning how to handle life’s disappointments. The chuch body needs to be directed to the Christ of the Scriptures to discover anew the hope that there truly is in him. They need to be reminded of the fact that “man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” So I plan to do a series of messages on that truth.
Thirdly, I hope to take lots of time to get to know the members of the congregation to listen to their hearts about the community and their church. I want to know what their aspirations are for their church and community. Through teaching and preaching, I want them to gain a new vision of the nature of the Gospel and its power to change people’s lives and a community. I hope to help them discover in a new way the nature of their identity in this community and how God might enable them to launch a new period of ministry in this community.
The fourth goal would be to assist them in developing a stronger sense of community through various means of fellowship events and communication. My hope is that they will experience, even during this time, a stronger sense of identity and vision. Out of this I hope we can build a profile of the community, the church, and the kind of pastor needed in these times.
We will also look at how the church is organized and how it can be more efficiently involve people in a common vision according to the talents and ministry gifts that God has given to them.
And finally my hope is that we can put together a map of how to proceed with the pastoral search process in a way that enables them to be united in finding a pastor best suited for the church and this community. My work will come to an end when I can successfully guide them through that process introducing them to their new pastor and the ministry to which God has called him in this place.