How To Transition From Church Staff Member To Lead Pastor

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You’ve been serving on staff for years and you thought all along the vacant Senior Pastor position would go to an outside candidate, but the Board of Elders recognized in you the ability to pastor, preach and lead. You sensed the call and the church family agreed.  What do you do now?  You find yourself in the lead role over the church where you have served on staff for years.

The transition from staff member to the Lead Pastor can be filled with interpersonal challenges and unanticipated demands. Internal promotions present unique dynamics and dilemmas that require careful navigation in order to move from co-worker and colleague to respected pastor and leader.

You and your coworkers know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. This can be a blessing and a impediment. On one hand, you know what you’re getting into; on the other hand, you will need to reestablish working relationships based on your new roles and responsibilities. Even though you’re an insider and may feel ready to advance your vision for how the church might best operate, it’s important to mark the transition and focus the church on its core mission and goals.

A change of this magnitude, even when considered a positive transition, creates uncertainty and confusion. Consider the following suggestions as you embark on being the new Lead Pastor.

1. Communicate well. 

Acknowledge this transition will be an adjustment for everyone as you adapt to new leadership in the organization. Communicate your leadership style with your former coworkers and begin outlining what they can expect from you as their new pastor. Be compassionate but clear on what you expect from them.

Prayerfully avoid the temptation to compare your approach to that of your predecessor, rather, state your preferences and expectations with hope and enthusiasm.  

2. Engage your staff team.

Bring your staff together to discuss the change. Take some time to draw away, perhaps a retreat setting, to begin the transition to new leadership. It’s best to inform the staff that your goal is to communicate information about the transition and discuss ways to ensure it will be positive. These early key moments with your staff will set the tone for years to come and will go far in determining your success as a leader.

3. Cast and discuss vision. 

Share your vision for the church and support it with some specific goals. It’s also important to stress from the beginning how you want the staff to work as a team. Let them have input by asking them to identify key changes they feels would improve the church’s functioning.

Listening to your church staff's suggestions and considering ways to implement their insights into the vision will pay huge dividends in unity and purpose.

4. Step up as a leader. 

The most influential church leaders don't play favorites. Tweet: The most influential church leaders don't play favorites. via @VanderbloemenSG

Visibly demonstrate your commitment to creating a healthy working environment. You have established better relationships with some staff members than others when you were peers. Now that you are the lead, be vigilent to treat all your staff fairly with time and attention.

The promotion to Lead Pastor is a great time to establish strong relationships with each key member of your staff and rebuild any strained relationships that may have occurred in the past.

5. Continue to be yourself. 

While being conscious of your new role, chances are, you were brought on in that capacity because you had maintained good rapport and demonstrated natural God-given ability. Your staff will follow if you lead with authenticity and transparency. Take time to be accessible to them as you move into your new role.  This investment will yield their respect.

If you've found yourself in a position of accepting a new offer, use these steps to ensure a smooth transition for you and your staff. 

Have you been asked to make this transition before? What were some ideas that helped you?

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