How a former pastor (or ministry team leader) can stay at their church after a transition

It's received wisdom in my ministry circles for the pastor to change churches when they step down. I've heard plenty of sad stories about former pastors sticking around and there being all sorts of difficulties, until the former pastor eventually leaves.

The same is true with other ministry teams for parachurch ministries and ministry organisations - it is very difficult to make this transition.

And yet it's not impossible for the former leader to stick around and everything to go fine. It happens in non-church contexts all the time, it has no doubt happened historically in traditional churches and it seems to happen a bit in Pentecostal churches.

My personal experience

I have had a positive experience of this change this twice:

  1. I helped plant Crossroads Presbyterian Church. Dan Shepheard join our staff in 2008 with a view to taking over leadership. He worked in 2008 under my leadership. In 2009 he took over senior leadership but I remained on the staff team. In 2010 stopped serving as a staff member and as an elder, began working for AFES, but remained a member of the church.
  2. In 2010 I became Campus Director of AFES Hobart. Samuel Green, who was formerly both Campus Director and leader of the Uni Fellowship ('local'/English first language group), handed these roles to me, but remained the Tasmanian Regional Director.

Both transitions were challenging, but but 'worked'. We went into the change with lots of thought, lots of prayer, lots of communication. And by God's kindness they went great.

For the leader stepping down

Nothing is so serious in the future of this ministry that it justified the former pastor interfering. The former pastoring interfering will always be the worst of two evils.

For the person taking over

Honour and respect the previous leader, rather than seek to conform them to the new way of doing things. Be willing to 'grandfather in' all sorts of exceptions to honour the place of the former leader - especially if they stay on the staff team.

Thom Rainer's advice

This post was sparked by reading Thom Rainer's blog post on the subject. I think we pretty much did everything on this list:

  1. Don't expect former pastor to sever all relationships.
  2. If the relationship is healthy the advantages of keeping the former leader are many.
  3. The former pastor should take an extended break from attending the church.
  4. The longer the tenure, the longer the break should be.
  5. The former pastor should not keep trying to be the pastor of members.
  6. The former pastor should not be perceived to be second-guessing the new pastor.
  7. The new pastor should not denigrate the ministry of the former pastor.

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