Everyone knows that a change in pastoral leadership, for any reason, can be a tough situation for your church, staff, volunteers and families.  But did you know that what you DO during this crucial time of transition will GREATLY impact your church’s ministries either for growth and healthy change or for hurt and damage for a long time to come? But do not panic! Let’s take a look at some very common mistakes that leaders make during transitions in church leadership and some tips on how to make a transition more positive for everyone.

Mistake #1 Announcing that nothing is going to change with this transition in leadership. Everything will stay the same.

Tip: Be HONEST with the leaders, the church, the volunteers and with yourself.  There WILL be change.  Change occurs all the time, with any growth, leadership transitions, and time.  During a transition in any part of the church leadership team there WILL be changes.  I actually sat in a church service and heard a pastor promise the congregation that “absolutely nothing would change” when his successor came in the next week.  In fact he said, “they wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference, or even that he had left.”  Internally I groaned. He had just promised the church something that could NEVER be delivered. And within a VERY few short weeks, people were angry and complaining that “things felt different” and “the new guy wants to do something new”.  I don’t believe in making promises to your leaders, parents and kids that you can’t keep. And it also isn’t fair to whoever is coming in! That person WILL have their own style, giftings and ministry.  And it is wrong to expect them to be someone else, or to keep someone else’s ministry on life support indefinitely.  God will be using that NEW leader and THEIR giftings in wonderful new ways.  During a time of transition, it is so important for everyone to stay flexible, and to hold their expectations loosely.  Don’t promise that nothing will change.  Promise that you are all doing your best to make this a smooth transition, promise to care about your leaders, your parents and your kids.  Promise that what matters to them, matters to you. Promise to find (or be) the very best leader you can possibly be and to listen and obey God the best you can, each and every week.  And make sure to keep those promises.

Myth #2  Jumping in to change things- IMMEDIATELY, as much as possible, without listening to those in the trenches and those who were there before.

Tip: Smart leaders WAIT, WATCH and LISTEN a LOT at first.  Listen to parents, volunteers, staff and perhaps even your predecessor. I thought I would jump out of my skin waiting to make changes at my last children’s pastorate, but we kicked off programs with quality and impact instead of throwing them together. And I was SO glad we waited and prepared.  One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is going in like a wrecking ball and bowling over people in your wake. Those people are not “in the way of your ministry”- they ARE your ministry. Most lead pastors have recurrent nightmares about getting a new children’s leader who barges in, offends people, causes solid long term leaders to quit and parents to complain. Yes, you WILL need to make changes, and some people are not going to like them.  But take the time up front to build RELATIONSHIPS and vision cast.  That way, when it is time to take that ministry further, God-willing, much of your team will be on board with you for the long haul.

Myth #3 I can gain more credibility by discrediting my predecessor.

Tip: Never ever ever ever X4 tear down the one before you.  Here’s why: a. there will always be some people- parents, volunteers and staff, who DID like and connect with your predecessor- no matter how things were when they left. It is not worth it to alienate those people. They highly supported the last pastor, and may just support you too. b. You set the tone of your ministry there. If you set a note of tearing people down, they’ll tear you down too eventually. Set a tone of love, and encouragement from the start. c.  You do NOT have all the sides of the story. You may find after a year or two, you agree with the last guy now, and you’ll have to eat those words.  d. If there had been a scandal, or the former pastor left on a bad note, don’t keep associating yourself and your ministry with that scandal by constantly bringing it up (tearing them down). Make a BREAK with it. e. Your biggest job right now will be to gain the trust of other staff/parents you may cross paths with. No one is going to trust someone that is putting others down. f. Putting down the former pastor doesn’t make you look better, it makes you look more insecure. You do not need to “break” anyone’s loyalty to a former pastor. Be glad they appreciate and miss the one that left.  Then give them a ministry they can appreciate and be excited about right now.

Transitions are tough, but they are the only way to the great things God has in store! How exciting! love Trisha

What tips do you have for surviving and thriving in a time of transition?