Much of my work involves churches in transition so I thought I would provide a how-to-be-ready-for-transition check-list. It’s a handy list for churches currently in transition and those that are not.
- Every church will eventually be a church in transition. Every pastor is an interim pastor. Sure some churches go longer between transitions than others. And some pastors stay at a church longer than others. But no church still has its first pastor – other than founding pastors in churches under 100 years old – and they will be in transition soon enough. And even if a pastor stays at the same church his whole life, he will not be the pastor of that church forever because the mortality rate is still around 100%. Why bring this up? Because good or bad, change will happen in a church. So we might as well be ready for it. So all churches need to pay attention to the rest of this list so that when (not if) transition comes, we will be ready.
- Pay attention to your vision. So this assumes your church has one. If not, step one would be get one. God is on a mission and He wants your church to play a role in that. There is a specific reason you are where you are as a church. Discover and articulate that vision. Then use it to drive what your church does and how you make decisions. And every few years the leaders of your church should prayerfully review the vision – asking God if that’s still what He wants for His church. Doing this will keep your church pointed in the right direction during transition and help you find the pastor who will lead you in the next chapter of fulling that vision.
- Have an up to date ministry plan. This is the “how” of fulfilling your vision. Again, this needs to be reviewed regularly – at least every two or three years. Your vision may not change much, but methods change all the time. So evaluate programs and budget in light of your God given vision. And then change your ministry plan so that you are being good stewards of what God has provided. And so you are being effective in what God has called you to. An up-to-date ministry plan will allow ministry to continue during transition and also help define some of the competencies the next pastor will need.
- Have good job descriptions. For sure the pastor needs to know what is expected of them. They need to know how they will be evaluated. They need to understand the priorities of the position. A good job description will have a handle on all of those things. It will also help prospective new candidates know whether they are the right fit for a church or not. But it is also helpful for board members, ministry leaders and volunteers to have a clue as to what is expected of them in their ministry as well. These don’t all have to be long documents but they should bring clarity to every leadership position and ministry area. They all also need to be reviewed regularly to make sure they are in line with the vision and ministry plan. Again, this can also help keep things running smoothly while a church is in transition.
- Develop leaders. Pastors – develop people who can step in and/or step up. Can anyone in the congregation preach besides the pastor? Lead a prayer meeting or Bible study? Visit a person in the hospital? Likewise lay people – who are you helping develop in your area of ministry? Who will lead if you are unable to for whatever reason? Who will lead in a new area of ministry? Where are the next generation of pastors coming from? Every church needs to be thinking through how they will both disciple people and develop leaders for the local church and beyond. This will help in a transition – people will be ready to carry out what is needed. But it will help beyond that. This needs to be a priority.
A lot of being ready for transition involves things that healthy churches are already doing. So don’t wait until change is upon your church. Be prepared to handle whatever change happens.
Director of Church Health, the Free Methodist Church in Canada