Church Planting: Leadership Transition

This is the sixteenth 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).

If the author of Ecclesiastes is to be believed, there is a season for everything.  A season for planting churches, a season for growing a healthy church, and a season for leadership transition.  In some cases leadership transition means leaving, stepping back from one role into another, or it can mean closing the church all together.

Today I want to walk through some of the reasons for you to consider changing your role, and on Tuesday we will discuss how to do it well.  This is always a difficult subject, one that we don’t like to talk about… but it is something that happens, and needs to be discussed.  In preparing to write this, I reached out to a handful of friends who have gone through a transition in the church that they planted.  While some of the guys asked to remain anonymous, I am indebted to guys like Joel Rainey and J.R. Briggs for sharing their experiences, allowing me to come at this with more than my own experience.

Before I dive into why to consider change, let me preface it by saying that everything I am about to say is deeply dependent on your relationship with Christ, and these conversations need to start within the context of your regular times of communion with him.  That said, it is time to consider moving on when you need change, the church needs change, or when it is just plain time to go.

You Need Change

There are times when ministry is toxic for us.  I am not talking about the times when we are being persecuted, or when we have problems with people in our congregation, I am talking about when ministry begins to take a significant toll on our health, our family, or our faith.  Recently a planter friend of mine was telling me his story about why he had decided to leave ministry for a season:

Our finances were wrecked. We were living paycheck to paycheck, living on faith knowing God will provide as he always had.  My wife missed her communication time with me, her questions were, “Why is the man I love so angry and irritable all the time?”  I would jump in my car at the drop of a hat to “run to the rescue” for anyone who had a need but had missed recent events with my kids.  I was fighting our local municipality for their ‘blatant disregard for a movement of God’ and keeping our church from doing what we wanted with our facility.

I was sick. I was in denial. I was broken and now after all of the mess around me, I was done.

When you get to the point that my friend found himself, one of two things happen: you leave and get healthy, or you crash and burn.  In these situations, the best gift that you can give your family, your congregation, and yourself is to get healthy.

The Church Needs Change

Some of us are gifted for particular seasons of ministry.  I recently spoke with J.R. Briggs about why he handed over pastoral responsibilities at The Renew Community, and went part time on staff at the church he started.  As we spoke he told me about how his particular gifting served the church well in the early phases of church planting, but now it was beginning to hinder the church.  The church needed someone with more of a pastor’s heart for the next season and for him to remain in that role would be to get in the way of what Jesus is attempting to do there.  Since the shift, the church has become stronger and has grown.

As a pastor, one of our most important jobs is to be mindful of what our church needs to continue pursuing Jesus.  Sometimes this means taking a different role in the church, other times it means that we need to move on… as spiritual leaders we need to be regularly asking God for the wisdom to know what our church needs, and the courage to act on it (Wade Hodges’ recent book walks through this quite well).

It is Time To Go

Sometimes the Holy Spirit begins to press on you, and it is time to go.  It may not make sense to you at the time, but you know that you are being called elsewhere.  In my own experience, it looked like this: Theresa and I both sensed the Spirit telling it was time to go… but we were not exactly sure why or where we were headed.  Shortly after we left The Garden, we learned that Theresa’s father was ill and that we needed to be near him.  Our willingness to follow the leading of the spirit freed us up to minister where we were needed: Long Island.

While you may not be called to Long Island, the Holy Spirit may be pressing on you to pursue something else.  These situations can be unexplainable, unwise (in the worldly sense), and will make you nervous… but it is better to be obedient and have people think you are nuts than to be highly regarded and disobedient.

Which of these situations have YOU experienced?


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 and am the Director of Connections for Harris Creek Baptist Church's Downtown Campus.