6 Ways To Prepare For A Pastoral Transition

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It’s inevitable. All pastors will move on at some point. Whether it’s retirement, going to another church, or an unexpected passing away, no one stays at the same place forever. Most pastors love their flock and understand that their calling to shepherd is a weighty responsibility. However, pastors often don’t think the process of pastoral succession is their job.

Most pastors are too busy leading, serving, and preaching to give it the consideration succession deserves. Pastors will sacrifice to protect the church, spend countless hours preparing meaningful messages, work tremendously long hours, and endure the stress and criticism that comes with the territory of being a pastor. Yet pastors can indirectly cause their church to suffer by not adequately preparing it for succession.

The difficulty is not in how pastors serve the church, but in how they leave the church. Tweet: The difficulty is not in how pastors serve the church, but in how they leave the church. https://bit.ly/2rAXYNf via @VanderbloemenSG

Every church will face pastoral transition, so all good leaders should already be planning for a healthy transition. When a plan of succession is in order, a search committee is not a transition strategy. Churches become exposed during transitions, and Satan can exploit weaknesses, sow discord, frustrate new ministers, and render ministries ineffective, all because pastors didn't help prepare for the transition.

Part of protecting the church is finishing well. Paul believed in succession planning and took time with guys like Timothy and Titus to mentor a generation of church leaders after him. He trained them, established them in the church, and then charged them with carrying on the work.

Here are 6 ways to begin preparing your church for a future transition:

1. Accept responsibility

It’s a pastoral responsibility to leave the church in good standing. Perhaps the greatest way to accomplish this is to train and equip a replacement.

2. Start now

Talk to your elders, board, and staff. Ask questions like, “What would happen if I suddenly died?” “What would happen if God called me to a different church?” “What are some things that should be done to prepare for the inevitable?” 

3. Prep the church

This means preaching grace and pointing people to Jesus so the congregation puts their trust in Him. It means putting structure in place with effective ministry teams that will allow the transition to be as smooth as possible. It means aligning the staff around the succession plan and focusing the team on unity and purpose.

4. Mentor your successor

Bring your successor on staff well in advance of the transition and allow things to take place gradually. This will give people the opportunity to form relationships with him. Consider all the ways to help them succeed. 

5. Get out of the way

Humble yourself. It’s important to be an example for the rest of the church to follow. The new guy will be unique in many ways, perhaps very different from you. It will take large quantities of humility to accept this fact. At some point, the new guy will take center stage, and you will need to step to the side. At that point, you will become a resource for guidance and support.                                                   

6. Pray!

Pray for wisdom, grace, strength, and unity. Pray for God to protect His church during the transition. 

Paul understood that his ministry was building the church and making sure they were left in good hands. When Paul wrote to Timothy from prison, it was his last chance to encourage Timothy to lead well. Paul wrote, “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” That’s an effective succession plan. Pastor, finish well!

How will you begin to prepare for a pastoral succession?