The following document was prepared by Jim Olson, former pastor of Bethel Christian Fellowship in St. Paul, Minnesota and now President of the Pilgrim Center for Reconciliation.
Fellowship of Christian Assemblies (Central Region)
“It was Christ who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Eph. 4:11-12)
Not only does Christ bestow gifts on people, He places gifted people into the church to serve it in various ways. So it is with godly pastoral leadership – that leadership is a gift to the body of Christ. That is why the process of pastoral transition is so crucial. It is a tremendous opportunity to discover God’s next gift of pastoral leadership for that local church. It is also a time of great vulnerability and must be approached with care and prayer.
The following are some suggested ideas for discussion by current leadership within a church, whether that church is presently in transition or not. These guidelines, of course, need to be freely adapted to the specific situation of a given church, but intentional prayer and discussion should be given to these various areas.
Pastoral transitions happen for a variety of different reasons, from termination to sending out to a new field of ministry. Regardless the reason, careful thought should be given to the closure process. Adequate attention to issues of grief and loss as well as anger and frustration must be given. Where there has been significant dissension or pastoral failure this closure may need to happen in the context of a larger process of healing.
- The length of the previous pastorate.
- The state of the relationship between the previous pastor and board, the previous pastor and church, and the board and the church.
- Where has the primary catalyst for pastoral transition come from—the church, the board, or the pastor? (See sample constitution for guidelines)
- Adequate time between announcement and departure should be given. (3 months in normal circumstances)
- During that time period attention should be given to:
a. Preaching themes
b. Preparing leadership, key people, and vulnerable individuals for change
c. Repairing ruptured relationships
d. Intentional releasing of the ministry
e. Proactively being available to assist the process of next steps
- A farewell service which includes elements of fun, honor, and blessing should be carefully planned.
Careful thought should be given to the selection of a pastoral search committee. Who will be on that committee, how will they be chosen, what is expected of them, etc.?
- Committee may be comprised of current leadership (elders/church board) or current leadership may appoint a larger committee.
- The committee should be comprised of people with spiritual maturity, vision, faith, grace, prayerfulness, discernment, courage, humility, etc.
- The committee should be representative of a broad cross-section of the congregation: age, gender, long/short-term members, culture, areas of ministry involvement, formal & informal leadership, theological perspectives, etc.
- Communication—without information there will be speculation. There must be constant communication between the committee and the church.
- The committee should agree on uniform confidentiality procedures.
Take adequate time! Too often churches rush the pastoral transition process. Though unnecessary delay should be avoided, churches often leap before they look.
- What unfinished business is needed for the outgoing pastor to do before he leaves and how long will it take. The leadership and outgoing pastor must make that determination.
- Attempt to lay out a general calendar recognizing the process will normally take a minimum of 6 months.
An essential but often overlooked part of the process of pastoral transition is the intentional evaluation of the needs and dreams of the congregation. In order to maximize the effectiveness of the match between a new pastor and congregation, there must be a healthy match between the pastor’s gifting/talent/experience/abilities and the congregation’s needs/aspirations. This evaluation should also encompass any need for healing/reconciliation within the congregation. Guard against reacting responses.
- Consider developing a congregational assessment survey.
- Discover the dream of the congregation.
- Discover the resources and needs of the congregation.
- Evaluate the role and responsibilities of the current church leadership with an intention of improving cooperative pastor and leadership relationship.
- Evaluate the role and responsibilities of future pastoral leadership addressing issues of style (context) and content (substance).
- Is our constitution an adequate representation of our dream, beliefs, goals and objectives, and structure? The incoming pastor should normally be included in any process of constitutional revision.
A church should be prepared for the potential of pastoral transition by having a list of available resources. These resources include: FCA churches and pastors who can be contacted for help; other churches, pastors and ministries who could bring support; books; tapes; articles; etc. There should also be a list of pulpit supply resources – individuals within and outside the congregation.
- Establish a list of contacts and resources prior to transition. Update list regularly.
- Make initial contact with FCA churches and pastors with which you already have established relationship.
- Make contact with members from the FCA Midwest steering committee (if possible, establish relationship prior to transition).
F. Pulpit Supply/Interim
Fairly early on in the transition process a decision should be made concerning continuity in the pulpit. Will that be filled by a variety of speakers or a temporary consistent pulpit supply? There should also be a discussion regarding the potential of an interim pastor coming for a season of time to assist the congregation through its transition time. Serious consideration should be given to the concept if there has been significant dissension, decline, pastoral leadership crisis, or following a long term pastorate.
- Care should be given to doctrinal consistency between pulpit supply/interim person and church.
- The distinction between pulpit supply and interim is reflected in the responsibilities of each. Pulpit supply is intended to provide a consistent week to week public voice to the congregation. Interim is intended to intentionally assist the congregation full time through the transition process.
- In both cases clearly understood time and responsibility parameters should be established up front. These parameters include a clear understanding about the potential of a pulpit supply or interim pastor becoming a candidate for the open pastoral position. In most cases it is not wise for an interim pastor to become a candidate for the permanent position.
G. Ministry Description
A ministry description reflecting the expectations and requirements of the incoming pastor should be developed. In addition, a comprehensive written personnel policy should be in place covering issues of compensation, vacations, sick time, retirement benefits, health insurance, car & housing allowances, Sabbatical leaves, and funds for conventions, seminars, books, and personal development.
- What type of pastoral strengths, styles, etc. does our church need at this time? (Do we need an evangelist, a father, a dynamo, etc?) Refer to previous “Evaluation Section”
- What are our ministry priorities? Refer to previous “Evaluation Section”
- Re-evaluate existing pastoral ministry description. (Done by Search Committee with input from eldership/leadership.)
- Congregational expectations of the pastor’s spouse & family should be clearly communicated.
- A written “comprehensive personnel policy” should be in place and should be developed in conjunction with the incoming pastor.
- Clear guidelines regarding the process of reaffirmation of call and ongoing evaluation of ministry should be defined.
- Be realistic!
H. Search Process
To facilitate the selection process the church may benefit by using an application form, reference check system, interview form and doing a background check on all serious candidates. Once a specific candidate has been identified, a candidating process should be agreed upon.
- Prayer immersing all search activities.
- Establish process – may include pre-candidating visit, resume review, review of preaching tapes, interviewing, etc. before formal candidacy. The pre-candidating process may occur simultaneously with several individuals, but should be a consistent process. Treat all potential candidates with courtesy. Please clearly communicate any decisions made to all candidates.
- Avoid “beauty contests” – simultaneous evaluation of multiple candidates. Consider one formal candidate at a time. A formal candidacy would normally include ministry to the whole congregation, meetings with key leadership groups, and should be long enough to encompass all the regular meetings of the congregation.
- Remain sensitive to relational issues involved between the candidate and the church they are currently serving.
- Establish a “policy of consensus” regarding the search process, i.e., majority, unanimity, 75%, etc.
- Give serious consideration to the affiliations of potential candidates. The search should begin with FCA listed ministers.
In multiple staff situations, consideration must be given to the status of remaining staff.
- The new senior pastor should be given the prerogative to invite present staff members to remain. For the stability of the church and the security of the staff, the senior pastor should be encouraged to retain staff for six months to one year.
- Clear communication between the Search Committee and the candidate regarding current staff should be an integral part of the Search Process.
- Clear guidelines regarding the type and amount of input from current staff and former pastoral leadership should be established at the beginning of the Search Process.
J. New Beginnings
Once a selection has been made, a call extended and accepted, consideration for the new pastor’s transition into the church should be given. Provision should be given for moving expenses, consideration for home purchase financial needs, adjustments to school, neighborhood and church life, etc.
- How much time has there been between the person’s former pastorate and coming to new pastorate? Has there been adequate time for closure from previous position and an opportunity for rest before undertaking the new pastoral position?
- Financial compensation may be given to provide opportunity for rest between pastorates.
- Planning for an installation service should take place early in the new pastorate.
- Consider establishing a “Transition Committee” to help during the first months of a new pastorate.
- Special attention to the needs of the new pastor’s family should be given.
- Every year on the anniversary of the new pastor’s coming, an appreciation/celebration may be given.
Before, during, and after, the entire process must be saturated in intentional and intensive prayer at all levels of the congregation.
- Recognize that God is in control of the process and that He has the right person for the church and He will be glorified in the process.
- The place of the church is to discover God’s plan and purpose, not create it.
- Establish specific times and seasons of intentional intercession.
- Recognize that the time without a pastor is a vulnerable time for the church.
- Sample Installation Service Program & Covenants
- Sample Ministry Descriptions
a. Senior Pastor
b. Associate Pastor
- Sample Interview Forms/Questionnaire
a. For Pastors
b. For churches
- Sample Evaluation Questions
- Resource List
Contact Person: Jim Olson (Bethel Christian Fellowship) 1996
Resource List for Pastoral Transition
Browne, William C. Training a Pastor Nominating Committee in the Search for a Compatible Pastor. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI, 1991.
Carroll, Jackson W., Carl S. Dudley, William McKinney, eds. Handbook for Congregational Studies. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1986.
Dale, Robert D. Pastoral Leadership. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1986.
Dale, Robert D. To Dream Again. Nashville, Broadman Press, 1981.
Gillaspie, Gerald Whiteman. The Restless Pastor. Chicago: Moody, 1974. The pros and cons of longevity, when to resign and how to start fresh.
Gillespie, Robert. The Empty Pulpit. Chicago: Moody, 1973.
Grider, Edgar M. Can I Make It One More Year? Atlanta: Knox, 1980. A penetrating look at the issues that make ministers want to leave their churches.
Hahn, Celia A. The Minister Is Leaving. New York: Seabury, 1974. The effect of pastoral termination upon the parish and the minister.
Harris, John C. The Minister Looks for a Job. Washington: Alban Institute, 1977. Covers the special factors a pastor must take into account in a job search.
Kemper, Robert G. Beginning a New Pastorate. Nashville: Abingdon, 1978. Discusses termination from one pastorate and the interviewing, candidating, deciding, and planning involved in starting a new one.
Kirk, Richard J. The Pastor and Church Face Retirement. Washington: Alban Institute, 1979. Planning for the final passage out of full-time ministry.
Philips, William Bud. Pastoral Transitions. Washington, DC: The Alban Institute, Inc., 1988.
Schaller, Lyle E. The Pastor and the People. Nashville: Abingdon, 1973. Primarily concerned about pastoral change.
Virkler, Henry A. Choosing a New Pastor: The Complete Handbook. Nashville: Oliver Nelson, 1992.
Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.
The following selections about pastoral transitions are from LEADERSHIP Magazine.
Title, Author (Type: ART = Article; ITW = Ideas That Work; SDB = Sidebar) Page # Issue Year]
Aids for Selecting the New Pastor, Warren Bird (ITW) 100 Sp 82
Candid Candidating, Kenneth B. Quick (ART) 70 F 90
Confessions of a Pulpit Committee, Em Griffin (ART) 106 F 83
Getting the Real Story: A Guide to Candidating, Douglas C. Scott (ART) 24 Su 84
How Do I Know I’m Called? John Newton (SDB) 55 Su 90
Is It Time to Leave? Donald Bubna (ART) 51 W 96
Is It Time to Leave? Gary L. McIntosh (ART) 70 Su 86
Pastoring Begins with the Search Committee, Everett L. Wilson (SDB) 74 F 90
Wilderness of the Candidate, The, Ben Patterson (ART) 20 F 83
from Robert Dale: To Dream Again
A Script Questionnaire for a Church
Act I: The Early Days
- Who was our church’s founder? Its first pastor? The charter members? How would I describe these persons?
- How was our church born? Out of positive or negative circumstances?
- What do the earliest records of our church say about our church’s beginning?
- What projects were undertaken first by our church?
- Does our church constitution, bylaws, or legal documents contain any unique or unusual features? Do they speak for or against certain themes which indicate early issues?
- Are there any memorial areas or items in our church? What are they? Under what circumstances were they given and/or dedicated?
- What are the favorite stories and most unforgettable events of the early years?
- How was our church’s name selected?
Act II: The Golden Years
- What were the greatest growth period(s) of our church?
- Who were the pastor(s) then? For how long?
- What were those pastors’ slogans and mottoes?
- Who were the key laypersons during the greatest growth period(s)? What did they represent?
- What projects and new programs were initiated during these growth periods?
- What have been the issues and problems over which people have conflicted regularly in our church?
- When were buildings erected? What do these projects represent?
- Which events and persons from this era are “magic” and are still remembered and discussed? Why?
Act III: The Present Moment
- Who gets recognition in our church? For what?
- What priorities does our church budget point to?
- How does our church now reflect its beginnings? How is our church different from its founding dream?
- What is the prevailing feeling tone of our church? Fellowship and love? Guilt, fear or anger? Service?
- What forces keep our church as it is? What or who are the traditionalizing forces?
- What are the special celebrations of our church?
- If our church were one person, who would it be?
What Is the Foundational Aim of Our Church?
I. Basic Identity
Who are we? Do we have a ministry dream? Where are we as an organization? Are we on the planning incline or problem-solving decline of the organizational health cycle?
II. Unique Contribution
What is our unique contribution in our community? What is the special strength of our congregation? What is the distinctive nature of our ministry?
III. Primary Audience
Who is our primary audience? Are our programs, finances, and energies focused primarily toward our church family or beyond our church? Does our ministry tend to select particular age, social, economic, or educational groups? Which new audience(s) will we try to reach?
IV. Resource Use
How do we use our basic resources: people, money, time, information, and physical facilities? Which resource do we value most? Least?
V. Strategic Game Plan
How will we multiply our membership growth rate? How will we train our people for ministry? How will we influence our community? How will we expand our stewardship potential? How will we enrich our own fellowship?
What Has Shaped Our Congregational Beliefs?
- What are the special gifts of our congregation for which we’re grateful?
- What hurts or conflicts have we suffered and still resent?
- Who have our key leaders and influencers been?
- What have been the most important decisions we have made as a group during our history, and how do these decisions continue to shape us?
Values Shown by Our Budget
- How does our church actually spend its budget?
*Mostly on buildings and properties?
*Mostly on personnel salaries?
*Mostly on national and foreign missions?
*Mostly on local ministry and outreach?
*Mostly on church education programs?
- Do our budget expenditures flow outward on mission or inward on maintaining our congregation?
- Which are groups are spotlighted via budgeted funds?
- Which organizations get the most money?
- Do we have any organizations or groups which have no access to budgeted funds?
Looking for Energy Reservoirs
- What do people volunteer for in our church?
- What do our members show enthusiasm for, get excited about, and have a willingness to do?
- What does our church budget time and money for gladly?
Evaluating Our Recognition Pattern
- What are people honored for in our church?
- What does it take to get a thank you, a public recognition, a certificate of appreciation, a memorial plaque, your name listed in the worship bulletin or church newsletter, or a personal letter from the minister?
- Who is honored?
- How are they honored? By whom? When?
- Are some church posts partly or totally honorary? How are these honorary offices assigned?
Clues to Informal Structure
- If you wanted to test a ministry idea with someone in your congregation, with whom would you talk? Who is the key “legitimizer,” the person who justifies ideas as correct, reasonable, and fitting, in your congregation? Who is your church’s “quarterback,” the person whose power can reverse a developing decision or whose opinion can declare a ministry option out-of-bounds?
- When you have a personal burden, with whom do you talk about it in your church? When members want the advice of another layperson, with whom do they talk in your congregation?
- If you had just returned from vacation and wanted to know what the church and community need situation is, whom would you ask? If you wanted to circulate ministry information, with whom would you share the information, and thereby, cultivate the grapevine?
Naming Our Organization’s Norms
- What are the “rules” that govern our church? Have these rules been violated? How? By whom? At what cost?
- What do people feel free and easy doing in our church?
- What do people “have permission” to do in our church?
- What do people feel pressured to do in our church?
- What have people wanted to do but felt pressured not to do in our church?
- What have people felt pressured not to do; therefore, people don’t do it and feel at ease?
- What issues trigger conflict?
Installation Covenant for _____________
Peter gives an important appeal to elders in his first letter, chapter 5, verses 1-4. Hear these words:
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you,but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (I Peter 5:1-4)
You have responded to God’s call, confirmed by this congregation, to serve as the outreach pastor of __________. That we may know your heart in this matter, will you please respond to the following covenant.
(Candidate will stand before congregation.)
Leader: Do you believe with all your heart that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God?
Candidate: I do.
Leader: Do you believe the Bible to be the Word of God as revealed by the Holy Spirit for the salvation and edification of mankind?
Candidate: I do.
Leader: The Lord Jesus commanded His disciples to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. Have you committed your life to be obedient to this command of Jesus Christ?
Candidate: I have.
Leader: When Jesus sent out His disciples He said that “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.” Are you willing to give undivided loyalty to the call of the Lord and wherever He leads you, you will follow?
Candidate: I am willing.
Leader: When the New Testament church was initiated, it was made up of born again believers who were united in the Holy Spirit under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Is it your aim to develop believers and this church modeled after that New Testament pattern?
Candidate: It is.
Leader: The key to spiritual power is a close walk with God. Will you give high priority to personal prayer time, careful study of God’s Word, and a sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit?
Candidate: I will.
Leader: As a member of the staff and leadership of ________ you will be a member of a ministry team. As an associate on a team, are you willing to follow the Scriptural admonition, “To look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others, having the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus.”?
Candidate: I am.
Leader: Do you accept the faith and order of _________ and promise to be loyal to this fellowship that it may more and more be a fruitful branch of the church universal; and while cherishing brotherly love toward all the faithful followers of Christ everywhere, do you covenant to labor earnestly that the purity, peace, and strength of this, your chosen church, may be increased?
Candidate: I do.
Leader: Moved by your love for God and a sincere desire to proclaim the Gospel of His Son among all people, are you now ready to take upon you this holy ministry and faithfully serve in it?
Candidate: I am ready, with the help of God.
Leader: God be your helper; the Holy Spirit be your illuminator; and Jesus Christ your Lord and Redeemer. Amen.
Congregational Covenant for _________________
Congregation, please respond by stating: “We will.”
- To the best of your ability, will you respect and hold in loving regard this man as he performs the work of the Lord in helping to lead this congregation and the larger Body of Christ?
- To the best of your ability, will you support his labors by praying to God on his behalf that he might have strength and wisdom in proclaiming the Gospel message?
- During his period of ministry to this congregation, will you, to the best of your ability, honor him as one called by God to serve among you in order that his labor may be joyous and not burdensome?
- Will you reaffirm your call to _________ to be our __________ Pastor?
Sample Interview of Church
by Candidating Pastor
- How many are currently attending? What are the demographics* of the congregation? [*Ages, couples/ families/singles, education, ethnic mix, etc. Also what are the religious backgrounds? How many are newcomers, recent converts? How many have a traditional background?]
- What is the concise vision or purpose of your church? How many elders and deacons can clearly state the vision of your church? How many ministry leaders (Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, youth workers, etc.) can clearly state the vision? How many attenders can clearly state the vision?
- How is the vision of your church unique? Or, to put it another way, does your church have a congregational gift that sets it apart from other churches in the area? [Does your church do ministries that others don’t or can’t do?]
- How would you summarize your church’s philosophy of ministry? [Describe the church’s approach to ministry along with as much as you wish to tell about methodology, limitations, ministry programs, volunteer personnel, staff assignments, and so on.]
- What is the ministry style of your congregation in worship, programming, and leadership? [Traditional-Contemporary, Intentional-Spontaneous, Central Control-Released Laity]
- Have there been any significant conflicts in the history of the church? How recently? What were the issues involved? Are there any lasting effects in the congregation?
- How has your town changed in the past 20 years? [In other words, how are the people of your town different today from what they were in the 70s? What demographic shifts have occurred? Has there been a change in the prevailing mind-set of the community?]
- How have any community changes listed in question 7 affected the ministry style and focus of your church? Has your church changed to adapt to a changing population? If so, how and to what extent?
- How does your church do strategic planning? How does the church adapt to cultural changes for future ministry?
- Where do you see the church on the following continuum:
Relating to the culture … Confronting the culture;
Communicating in ways the culture understands. Challenging cultural presuppositions.
- What do you want the senior pastor of your church to do? [What roles do you see him fulfilling? Do you have a written job description for the pastor? How do the roles of other staff members fit together with the role of the senior pastor?]
- What do you want the senior pastor to be?
- What kind of working relationship can the pastor expect to have with the church board? How are the pastor and board members accountable to each other?
- How much does the church empower the pastor for ministry? [Which level of administrative decisions are executive decisions and which are board decisions?]
- Is the congregation comfortable with the present ministry roles of your church? Or do members want to see change in the future? If so, what would they like to see?
- As a board, would you answer the previous question similarly to the congregation? Or do you have another perspective? If so, please describe.
- Where is the heart of your church? Where do your passions lie? What are your dreams for this congregation?
- Do you expect the pastor to be a leader? Or do you expect the pastor to fulfill certain assignments or roles?
- Who sets the agenda for ministry?
- In what way and to what extent are the elders, deacons, and trustees involved in ministry?
- Does the pastor hire additional ministry staff members with the approval of the elders? Or do the elders hire additional staff with the approval of the pastor? How are staff management or discipline problems handled? Do you want the pastor to function more like a CEO or more like an employee of the elders?
- What expectations do you have of a pastor? Do you have a job description listing those expectations? What do you expect of the pastor’s spouse? What qualities does the church most look for in a pastor and a pastor’s family?
- What systems for mutual accountability do you have in place? In what ways do you hold the pastor accountable? How does the pastor hold the elders accountable?
- Could I get the names of some references: a nearby neighbor who does not attend the church; a nearby fellowship pastor; two individuals who recently left the church (one happy, one unhappy).