Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Pastoral Transitions 101: Starting Strong and Ending Well

Pastoral Transitions 101
Long before I knew that the Lord had plans to transition our family to a new ministry context I came across an article that made a huge impression on me.  The blog was titled, "How Pastors Accidentally Ruin Their Church."  Flowers opened with these haunting words: Most pastors really love their church. They understand their calling as under-shepherds tasked with guarding the bride of Christ. Caring for the thing that Jesus died for is a heavy responsibility. Pastors will endure stress and criticism, they will work long hours, and they will sacrifice to protect the church.

Yet, I’ve seen these same men inadvertently bring their church to the brink of ruin. They are good preachers, caring counselors, and men of prayer, yet their church suffered. These pastors followed the play book, but their church nearly closed the doors. It wasn’t on purpose. They never meant any harm to come. But they sat and watched as the church they loved crumbled.  The weakness was not in how they served the church, but how they left the church.

Having witnessed the negative impact of a very selfish pastoral transition before I resolved to do everything I could to never "ruin a congregation" by leaving in a less than exemplary manner; (On a more positive and happy note, having recently experienced the benefits of another Senior Pastor's graciousness to me I am striving to follow "the golden rule.")

Here are a few things I have done in effort to try and help maintain the spiritual momentum here.  Our desire should be to do everything we can to help set up the next guy to succeed (whoever that may be):

1) Write a personal letter to each member and regular attendee.  In this note identify evidences of grace and thank them for their commitment.  Share your heart, highlight the path forward, and encourage them to fix their eyes on Christ.  Remind them that God is faithful and can always be trusted.  Keep reminding them and yourself that Jesus cares about His Church more than every believer combined.

2) Continue to shepherd the flock faithfully and to preach the Word diligently all the way until your very last day.  If you are getting paid for what you do and love the people in your flock, how could you do any less?  This isn't rocket science: 1) start strong- 2) run the race with endurance- 3) and finish well (1 Corinthians 10:31).

3) If you are the designated "leader among leaders" may we never run a great race all the way up to the last lap, and then just drop the baton in the dirt and walk away.  Don't take fleshly pot shots on your way out the door at remaining members and/or at existing leadership teams.  It will not help the church and won't serve you well in the future.  Many men have struggled to find new pastorates after burning all their bridges in a previous ministry setting.

In First Baptist's lengthy 173 year history the ministry has often struggled the most when pastoral search committees took ten months to nominate a candidate (ten months after the previous Sr. Pastor left).  Sometimes this long delay was due to the hasty and/or selfish way in which a previous pastor transitioned.  Think Philippians 2:1-4.

In my context I spent months preparing a pastoral search committee binder for each of our lay leaders.  In this binder I included the following items:

Section One (12 articles)
1) 17 Spiritual Blessings and/or Things FBC, Freeport has going for it.
2) A few words of wisdom regarding finding the right ministry fit for this local church
3) Blank copy of "FBC Ministry Compatibility Questionnaire" for prospective candidates.
4)  How Pastoral  Transitions Can Cripple or Bless the Church article and How Pastors Accidentally Ruin Their Church article
5) Sr. Pastor Ministry Roles and Responsibilities
6) 8 Things I Love About My Present Ministry at FBC, Freeport article
7) How To Get a Pastor To Move Across the Country to Your Church: A Checklist For a Small Congregation to Follow article
8) Seven Reasons the Pastor’s Honeymoon Ends article
9) What We Teach: The Doctrinal Distinctives of First Baptist Church
10) First Baptist Church Constitution, By-Laws, and Statement of Faith
11) Moving Forward: Where Do We Go From Here?
12) A Personal Note regarding our Prospective Candidates. 

Section Two (resumes, references, and completed questionnaires)
1) Prospective Candidate One-  XXX
2  Prospective Candidate Two-  XXX
3) Prospective Candidate Three-  XXX
4) Others possible candidates- Resumes, etc.

By preparing this notebook ahead of time our lay leaders were ready to begin contacting references and to set up SKYPE interviews with prospective candidates less than a week after my formal resignation.

 This is how it needs to be brother shepherds: A) start strong- B) run the race with endurance- C) and finish well; (i.e. set up the next guy to take your former congregation to new heights of spiritual maturation)!

4) Ask God to help you pray like George Whitefield; "Lord, let the name of Whitefield perish so long as Christ is exalted!"  After all, the goal of Christian ministry  is to present every believer MATURE in Christ (Col. 1:28-29; Eph. 4:11-16; John 3:30).