After almost two years (22 months) in pastoral ministry at a church in Saskatchewan, it’s good to be viewing the end of another church transition journey. This is my eighth pastoral transition experience in the course of about 9 years and certainly the longest. Previously, most have lasted about nine months or less. But this was a larger church and though the journey involved the usual process of stabilization, assessment, and search, each took a little longer than expected — especially the search part. We started the search about this time last year, so it’s taken most of the year to complete. I guess I underestimated how challenging it would be to find the right fit in this situation.
The thing that has amazed me throughout this journey however, has been the sense of God’s leading and providence in all the matters that we’ve had to process. At the very beginning we lost staff that made me wonder how we were going to be able to manage on-going ministry needs. In one case God filled that need by providing a ministry intern who has since become a more permanent part of the staff. At first, I resisted this extra responsibility — until I realized that this was something that God had ordained for me and for the church at this time. That has turned out to be a very positive experience.
At the same time, a senior leader in the church, who had served on staff before, became available to help with pastoral care ministries. This too has proved to be a great blessing. Not only has he been there to lead through many personal pastoral needs, including funerals, he has also been available to lead services and staff (including taking some preaching responsibilities) when I’ve not been able to be there. Additionally, we have been greatly blessed by the assistance of another pastoral ministry intern during this time. This latter person was from the church and felt it would be really good if he could complete his internship requirement at his home church at this time, if such was possible. It was, and he has made a very good contribution as well.
I was impressed with God’s providence in how He led the church through the assessment and search process. Especially, it was good to see how God led in the selection of teams for these committees. One of the most inspiring experiences for me in this situation has been to see how God has formed and led the Elders Board in genuine team relationship during this time. Though we have had to work through various critical needs there has never been a decision without a general sense of unanimity. And though the pastoral candidate recommended and eventually chosen was from half a world away, and a costly proposition, sensing the Lord’s leading in it all, the Elders Board members were united in their decision to proceed.
Only six weeks remain before the hand-off to the new pastor becomes official. Before that time, we have to prepare the people as best as possible for the inevitable adjustment of having a pastor come from a slightly different culture (Australian) and denomination (Presbyterian), we have to determine where he might need some additional assistance in the transition, and we have to ensure ministry structures are in place that won’t require a lot of his attention as he is getting used to his new role.
As the end of the transition period draws near, it would be easy for me to be distracted, shifting attention to other places and ministry opportunities. Or, because the journey has been rather long, it would be easy to pull back and coast into the finish line. For this reason, it will be important to be intentional in ensuring a good hand-off to the new pastor. In the midst of the prospect of many unknowns about the future, it’s important to demonstrate a sense of confidence in God’s provision and to ensure that everyone is as ready as possible for the new leader. Based on the evidence of God’s faithfulness in the past, there is every reason to believe that God will provide all that is needed for a good ministry for the church in the immediate future. Thank God for His amazing grace and providence in this experience. It has been a pleasure to see Him at work in ways that are far beyond what I could have arranged or imagined.