One of the more interesting challenges that an experienced pastor can face during his ministry is to sit in the pew rather than stand in the pulpit. While some denominations allow for a relatively seamless transition from one church to another, pastors of many denominations can find themselves spending an extended period of weeks or months in the pew while waiting for “the call” to a new church. It can be a productive time of personal reflection and recharging the spiritual battery. However, such is not always the case.
Meanwhile, churches in the midst of a transition in pastoral leadership face their own unique challenges. To insure ongoing worship, it becomes essential for the pulpit committee to fill the pulpit each Sunday with an Interim Pastor and/or a succession of candidates who are all vying for the congregation’s calling. In the best of circumstances, the variety of personalities and preaching styles can offer freshness to the Gospel message and an opportunity to consider those gifted with a wide array of leadership styles. However, it can also be a period of instability evidenced by disagreements and a decline in worship attendance.
Churches whose continuity of pastoral leadership is guaranteed through an appointive process are not immune from challenges in times of transition. Dependent upon the decisions of an individual or committee, the will of God, in the lives of all concerned, can be realized in spite of the efforts of those making the decisions. However, where humans are involved, human error and frailty is possible. A multiplicity of factors can present themselves in any given appointment that result in crisis for the pastor and/or the church. Resolution can be painful, if not destructive, for all involved.
For pastors who find themselves relegated to the pew for awhile, for committees charged with the responsibility to find the right person to lead their congregation, for pastors and congregations who are compelled to accept one another “sight-unseen,” there is hope! Jesus assured His disciples, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matt 18:20, NIV). The assurance this passage offers all involved in times of pastoral transition is that in the midst of our uncertainty and bridled chaos is the presence of the risen Christ. In Him, all participants in the process can find assurance and peace in seeking His will. In Him, all can find the wisdom and strength to follow it. To God be the glory for His faithfulness in the process!
What challenges have you witnessed in seasons of pastoral transitions? What could the decision-makers have done to overcome those challenges? What might the new pastor and/or congregation have done? What advice would you offer a pastor, pulpit committee, denominational hierarchy, or congregation-at-large that would make this pivotal period in any church’s history less traumatic?