Church Planting: Leadership Transition (part two)

This is the seventeenth installment in a series based on my adventures in planting a church.  For more information on the series, or to see what else we have walked through, check out the original post.  My hope is to use this series to develop a resource for planters as they are thinking about diving in, or need to process their current situation… this resource is incomplete without your contribution (that is a subtle way of saying leave a comment).

On Thursday we began a conversation on why church planters leave, or shift roles in the churches that they plant.  Today I want to talk a little bit about how to go about doing this well.  After all my years in school, serving on church staff, and working with pastors all over the country, I am convinced that we don’t have nearly enough conversations on how or why to leave the churches that we are serving, much less the churches that we start.

Let’s be honest, leaving a church is hard.  After years of investment, developing relationships, and caring for people (and being cared for by them) it is tough to separate ourselves from the people we have bonded with.  It can also be particularly difficult to leave when you feel that there are things left unfinished.  While the process can be painful, there are times when it just needs to happen, and prolonging something that we are called away from is not good for anyone involved… and is downright selfish.

Being called to care for the spiritual needs, and facilitate the discipleship of followers of Christ, we need to be modeling the kind of spiritual openness that can lead to unexpected changes, in the case of a leadership transition we need to allow ourselves to listen closely, answer why, proceed slowly, and communicate clearly.

Listen Closely

The process of leaving any church should only be done after much listening: listening to the Holy Spirit, the wisdom of Godly mentors, and those that know you best.  Wade Hodges suggests inviting a church’s elders into the process which I think could be a phenomenal idea, depending on the health of your elder board (by the way, you really need to check out Wade’s book When to Leave).

In writing this the assumption that I make is that you, as a church leader, are engaged in regular times of communion and connection with the Holy Spirit (if not, you have a larger issue).  It is during these times that we need to allow the spirit the space to engage us and speak to us on these kinds of questions.  When we begin to feel the prodding of the Holy Spirit to transition, it is then that we allow the counsel of others to affirm, or suggest we listen a little longer to, this prodding.

Proceed Slowly

When you first realize that you are being called to transition from your role in the church, move slowly.  In order to care well for those who are a part of the church that you have been entrusted with, you need to take the time to fully understand what it is that you are being called to, and how that will affect the church you are currently serving.  In the excitement (or relief) that often comes with a significant change in calling it can be easy to forget about the needs of those who you are currently serving.  Take the time to ensure that a transition plan is in place, allowing for a continuity of care while you, and the church, are in transition.

Answer Why

Sometimes God will ask us to do things that we don’t fully understand, but we still know that God is at work in it.  Other times, we are very clear on what God is up to, and why.  If you are unable to clearly, convincingly, and concisely articulate why you are preparing to transition, you need to spend some more time listening and seeking wise counsel.  You may not be able to share what the next five years of your life will look like, but if you can express how you know that God is at work in this transition and why you are certain that he is at work, you will go a long way to making this process easier, and less painful, for you and your congregation.

Communicate Clearly

When the time comes to begin announcing your transition, you need to clearly communicate why you are leaving, what is causing you to leave, what you are going to be doing, and what this means for the church you are leaving.  There is no quicker way to start a witch hunt in this day and age than to be unclear in how you communicate this.  While these kinds of conversations can often times be laden with tears, it is also important to truly celebrate the work that God was able to do through his church while you were a part of it.

Last week Josh Griffin blogged about how there is no such thing as leaving well.  Your heart should ache after leaving a place you have invested so much in, but as Josh suggests we need to leave better.  Be wise in how you negotiate this season, embrace the calling that you have been given, but at the same time care well for those that you are leaving behind.

How have YOU negotiated the transition process?


About the Author: Matt Steen

I love Jesus, Theresa (my wife), the Redskins & Capitals, and am currently living in Waco, Texas where I am studying the finer points of BBQ (while working on my MDiv and MBA at Baylor University). When not studying, I serve church leaders through MinistryBriefing.com and am the Director of Connections for Harris Creek Baptist Church's Downtown Campus.