The day a pastor announces he is leaving is like losing a member of your own family. It can cause stress and grief beyond what you know or can comprehend. I know this because we just left a church we loved for a new one.
It was not only grievous for them but for us as well. Lost sleep and many tears were just the beginning of what we would experience as we transitioned out of our old church and into a new one. But the congregation is left to pick up the pieces of their loss and search for another pastor to lead their congregation.
What do you do when the pastor you love follows another calling?
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1. Stay in Your Lane
One of the hardest parts about learning to drive for me (besides parking) was trying to stay in my lane without drifting off into another, cutting off any car coming alongside of me. When I turned my head, it was tempting to turn the wheel also; keeping the wheel still was a skill I had to acquire before I became a good driver.
Your church needs you to learn this skill too. During a transition, the best thing to do is to keep your eyes focused on Jesus and resist the temptation to turn the wheel in a different direction than where you need to be. Getting distracted can be lethal for your spiritual growth and the health of your church.
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2. Grieve Well
You’ve lost someone. He may not be a blood relative, but he is a brother in Christ nonetheless. Don’t’ stuff your feelings. Jesus calls us to bring everything into the light. If Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, then he calls His children to be honest in every area of their lives, including deep loss.
You may not want to grieve publicly through tears and that is okay. But do what you need to do in private so in public you can be strong for those who need you during this time. You may be the voice of reason in others’ lives who are thinking of leaving. Help your congregation stick together during this time of transition so you can fight against the devil’s schemes and make sure the church is healthy for the next pastor.
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3. Love the Volunteers
Leaders in charge of maintaining the church will have to perform multiple tasks in a pastor’s absence, one of which is delivering the weekly sermon. Bear in mind most are doing this while holding down full time jobs and without the full education your pastor has worked hard to achieve. Cut them some slack.
Resist the urge to compare those filling the pulpit with your former pastor. This is unfair to both your former pastor and to those who are volunteering. They are not going to be like your former pastor, nor should they be.
No one else is like your former pastor. When your church fills his place, the new pastor will have his own way of doing the job. Keep the two people separate during this time. Do the work needed to grieve through your loss of the former pastor so you can look forward to the future.
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4. Don't Underestimate Satan's Schemes
Pastoral transitions are optimal times when Satan comes in and places doubts and fears in people’s minds. This can cause some to complain, sowing seeds of dissention within the congregation. If not checked, these seeds can grow into weeds, which will cause some people to leave the church.
Churches can’t survive without congregation members. Soon a thriving church turns into one just surviving. Furthermore, other churches in the area who learn of this church transition may try to capitalize on it by welcoming doubting members with open arms. This just sows seeds of divisiveness even further. Be aware of the devil’s schemes during this time and guard your heart. Thoughts lead to actions that can contribute to churches splitting and closing doors.
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5. Be Patient
The process to getting another pastor can be a long one. In fact, it should be a long process if it is done correctly. No one wants someone to simply fill a pulpit. The church needs someone to carry out an overall vision. Be patient. You don’t want the wrong person in leadership. Otherwise the whole church could be tricked into going in the wrong direction.
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6. Trust Your Leadership
The people your church has entrusted to help choose the next pastor are doing their best to prayerfully make the right choice. This may mean not everyone on the team or committee tasked with this is going to be in unity all the time. They may be dealing with stressors you are not aware of. They could also be dealing with members’ concerns and advice as to how they think a congregation should run.
Uphold them in your prayer life. Write notes of encouragement when you can. They can use all the encouragement they can get.
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7. Don't Spread Dissension
If you have a major concern with something in the church, voice it once to the head elder or interim pastor. Do not spread seeds of gossip by talking to those not in leadership. If, after you have voiced your concern and the leaders will not address it, speak to them one more time. If they still won’t listen, (unless the pastor or leader is in sin) let it go.
Do what you need to do to not hold their lack of action against them. If it is still a major concern when the new pastor arrives, voice it to him and let him deal with it the way he feels it is best. This way you are doing what is best and addressing the issue in a healthy way.
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8. Feed Yourself
While a pastor’s main job is to deliver a weekly sermon full of the Bible and practical application, a pastors’ second job is to equip the body with the skills necessary to minister to each other through the use of their gifts. So equip yourself and feed your soul so you can be used effectively. Buy commentaries to study the Word in addition to reading it. Pray not only for the pastor but for the congregation. Fast if you can. Ask the Lord to reveal the next person in His timing and wait patiently in the interim.
Once you are feeding yourself, regularly volunteer to shepherd those newer in the faith. Study the Word together and help them discover and use their gifts too. What pastor doesn’t want a spiritually healthy congregation? Health can be the greatest gift you give new leadership.
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9. Lean on the Community
Satan will want you to feel isolated during this time so he can break up a thriving church. The best way to combat this is to lean on your community. If you are having a rough time with the transition, talk to someone you trust. If you are not used to a conversation like this, ask the Lord to reveal to you someone whom you can talk to who has been through this process before. You can also contact a member of the pastoral search team who may be able to relay information about where they are at in the process and help calm your nerves.
No matter what you do, it is going to benefit you and your church if you do things as a community. Engage in small groups, have supper together, and talk with each other so everyone is aware of others’ feelings on this issue.
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10. Do the Things You Did at First
In Revelation 2, John urges the church to “do the things you did at first” to reclaim your first love. Clinging onto your love for God during this time is crucial to your church’s survival. Cling to the love you know God has for you. He only has your best in mind. He doesn’t want you to feel disconnected or apart from the body, but He does want you to remain in Him while you wait, for apart from Him you can do nothing.
Pastoral transition is hard. When you hurt a part of your body, the rest of it does its best to compensate for the part that is hurting. Be the healthy part of the body so that you can help those that are hurting. That way, your congregation can be as healthy as possible before the new pastor takes his place in your leadership.
Michelle S. Lazurek is an award-winning author, speaker, pastor's wife and mother. Winner of the Golden Scroll Children's Book of the Year and the Enduring Light Silver Medal, she is a member of the Christian Author's Network and the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. Her first book with Leafwood Publishers, An Invitation to the Table, came out September 2016. She also teaches at various writers' workshops, such as the Montrose Christian Writers conference. She and her husband live in Coudersport, Pennsylvania, with their two children, Caleb and Leah. For more information, please visit her website at michellelazurek.com.
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