During the past several years I’ve had the privilege of working with a variety of churches through their times of transition between pastors. Typically pastoral transition ministry involves a process of closure on the previous pastor’s ministry. This can be a painful experience lasting a good while depending on the circumstances surrounding the pastor’s resignation. Often there is a need to resolve issues of one kind or another. Sometimes people feel a measure of abandonment by their pastor’s sudden demise. Often most of the congregation has felt a very close relationship with its pastor and can’t understand why it is necessary for him to move on. Other times there are outstanding issues of offence whether real or imposed that stand in the way of progress in the church’s future progress. In one way or another congregants often need help in making peace with the reality of the pastor’s resignation.
Of course, after a pastor resigns, the church’s ministry will continue in one form or another. It is up to the leadership of the church, often with the help of a transition pastor to ensure that the regular ministry of the church continues in good order — that the Sunday Services are well-led, that good preaching continues, that individual pastoral care needs are looked after, and that a basic system of organization for the various ministries of the church is maintained. Sometimes it takes awhile for the church to regain its equilibrium after sustaining the resignation of its main pastoral leader. This challenge is even more acute when the pastor’s resignation was sudden. And it is even more complex when this happens in a larger church.
I’ve found that it’s very important for churches to take adequate time to recalibrate before they begin the search for another pastor. Jumping into the search process without giving proper attention to current issues in the life of the church is a little like someone jumping too quickly into a new relationship after losing a girl-friend or a spouse. Such an action can lead to very costly conclusions in either context. Besides, the transition time between pastors can be a great opportunity for a church to seek an objective analysis of it’s true needs spiritually, organizationally, and culturally. This latter category has to do with its basic values as expressed in various forms of church behaviour as well as its approach to effective ministry in its community and beyond. In ways similar to the manner in which the churches of Revelation 2 and 3 were evaluated by Jesus regarding the nature of their true spiritual life and service so it is good for a churches today to seek the Lord for a similar kind of evaluation. In such an endeavour the key question for a church to ask for an assessment of its current health from Jesus’ perspective.
This is one way to describe the nature of a transition pastor’s ministry. It is his responsibility to help a church receive an adequate spiritual and personality assessment of what its life and ministry is really like in line with what God, the Spirit, really thinks. Often, I find, a church needs to be renewed in its hope that it can once again, or in a whole new way, experience the grace of God to be much more fruitful than it has been in the past. It needs to take time to get its eyes back on the nature of God and His plan through His Son to be the redemptive force He has planned for it to be. During times of transition, churches need new reminders about the nature of the Gospel and how Jesus is committed to building His Church through it.
Furthermore, churches need to be renewed in their vision for the need of the world from God’s perspective. Its members need to see the crucial role God has for them to fill in helping their near friends and neighbours come to find life in Jesus Christ. They need to be prepared to evaluate how they think about the people around them — whether in judgment or with compassion and real care. Christians need to consider the degree to which their lives reflect a sense of carelessness, self-centeredness and even prejudice. They need to take a close look at the obstacles within their own spiritual community to fruitfulness for God. Another key factor is the need for Christians to consider the nature of true spirituality and whether they are experiencing this in the way that God intended.
Though not exhaustive by any means, these are some of the elements of renewal that are essential to a new era of fruitfulness for a church that it can begin to consider, perhaps more objectively, in a time of transition between pastors. Properly considered and engaged, transitions for churches between pastors are great opportunities for wonderful seasons of renewal.