Moving from one ministry assignment to another is an extremely important time for you, your family and both churches involved in the transition. It’s important to slow down and prayerfully develop a plan to lead and shepherd everyone involved well. A good finish and a great start will bless you and your family, will bless both churches, and will honor Christ and advance His Kingdom.
Shepherd Your Family Well: Put Your First Congregation First
- In your excitement about moving to a new church and ministry position, don’t overlook the fact that even though your family supports you, they may struggle with the challenge of saying goodbye to much-loved friends and starting over in a new place. Be sure to devote plenty of time and care to their needs during the transition.
- Consider having a farewell party for your kids and all their friends.
- Check on and regularly pray with your family throughout the move.
- Even if you’re leaving your current church for less than positive reasons, be careful how you talk about that with your children. Don’t sow seeds of bitterness in their hearts.
Leave Well: Your Last Impression Will Be Your Lasting Impression
- Be prepared for your current church members to react with a wide-range emotions including support, sadness, and resentment. Be patient and gracious with them.
- Don’t get in such a hurry to leave that you give the people who have loved and supported you in the church that you are leaving the impression that they are being disregarded and discarded. Slow down and finish well.
- As much as possible, before you announce your departure to the church, out of consideration for them, privately tell your staff and closest friends. They can be praying for you and prepared to help the church respond to the news of your resignation.
- Give a lot of prayerful thought to your public announcement of your resignation. Share your love, show your appreciation, and avoid airing any grievances. Don’t talk too much about your new church; focus on your current church.
- Write thank you notes to the many people who have served alongside and personally supported you.
- Visit all the shut-ins to personally say goodbye.
- Repair any damaged relationships as much as it is possible.
- If your current church is willing, work with them to set up a transition plan so that there is clarity about decisions to be made and pastoral care needs to be met.
- Offer to recruit a supply preacher to fill the pulpit for at least the first month in case they don’t know how to do so.
- Offer to do some basic training on how to form and do the work of a search committee or to arrange to have the Director of Missions to do so. This could really help them in the days because so many churches have very little idea how to do this well.
- Consider doing an exit interview with the personnel committee, Deacons leaders, elders or whatever best fits at your church.
- Be sure to pass along any church social accounts and passwords and any other helpful information that the church and the next pastor will need.
Arrive Well: Listen, Learn, and Love, Then Lead
- When you arrive, don’t focus on sharing your vision and agenda. Focus on listening to people’s stories, learning their hearts, and loving them well.
- Don’t make comparisons with your former church and never disparage the former pastor at your new church. Both are fruitless conversations.
- Consider doing a Listening Tour of all your Sunday School classes/small groups, committees, and ministry teams/groups. Don’t share your agenda, just let them share what they appreciate about the church, their concerns, their hopes/dreams, and their needs. Take good notes and take what they say to heart.
- Build genuine friendships with your staff and carefully listen to their needs, desires, joys, concerns, and frustrations. Commit to work with them for at least 1 year before you try to assess long-term fit.
- Develop a plan to meet with as many members/families as possible throughout the first year by having people over for coffee and dessert, cookouts, game nights, Christmas parties…. Focus on listening and learning and building relationships.
- Visit all the shut-ins to introduce yourself and to get to know them.
- Preach well. How you handle God’s Word and declare it will make a huge initial impression. Consider starting off by preaching a sermon series you’ve already preached that was well-received at your previous church. This will give you more time to focus on people and to devote to your family during the transition.
- Don’t get in a rush to make changes – especially to the worship service, the schedule, the staff/leadership structure, annual traditions, the church’s name or branding/logo. You need to earn their trust with patience and good leadership for at least a year before you make big changes. Remember, it’s amazing how little you can accomplish in a year and how much you can accomplish in 5 years.
- Love and pastor the church well as it is, rather than getting in a rush to try to turn it into the church you hope it will someday become.
- Develop and stick to a weekly schedule that gives ample time for prayer, sermon preparation, pastoral care, reading for personal growth (leadership, ministry, theology…), family time, rest, recreation, and exercise. These boundaries will help prevent burnout. Learning to graciously say no to things that overextend your schedule isn’t laziness, it’s sanity.
- Get involved in the community and get to know your neighbors.
- Get to know and meet with other pastors in the area on a regular basis for friendship and mutual encouragement.
Andy Finch is the Senior Pastor at FBC Choctaw and can be reached at email@example.com.