For those of us who live out our pastoral vocation in an itinerant system, transitions are simply a part of the geography we inhabit. Whether we’ve moved often or rarely at all we all have experienced or will experience transitions that will take us in and out of places of ministry. These transitions can be difficult and painful. And yet, they can also be places of growth, learning, and fruitfulness.
Now I am not an expert in transitions but I have learned a thing or two over 23 years of pastoral ministry. I share this wisdom of experience with you as a fellow sojourner knowing that many of you could have written this article far better than me. So, with that in mind, here you go.
- People and relationships matter more than your office.
You may want to unpack your boxes and settle in, but, the relationships you build early on, with staff and key leaders, will be far more influential for your ministry than where you hang the pictures.
- The people to whom you have been appointed have gifts that bless the church.
More importantly the people to whom you have been appointed, as hard as it may seem at times, are themselves gifts. They matter more than simply what they can “do” for the work you are called to lead.
- Take advantage of being new.
You don’t know the place, the people, the issues, the traditions, the successes or failures. You have a limited opportunity to see the place as an outsider. Take advantage of that unique perspective to watch, listen, and learn.
- Ask questions.
A great place to begin is by asking questions my friend Dave Zietlow likes to ask church leaders. What do you want more of? What would you need to put down or take up to have more of that in the life of your congregation?
- You don’t know what you don’t know.
Invite staff and key leaders to help you discover the presence of the gospel in your new place and to navigate the minefields that are surely there.
- You likely will not be able to lead here like you lead there.
This is particularly true if you are being appointed to a church that is larger, has more staff, or is more complex than the one you currently serve. You will need to be intentional about how you lead in your new place and what your role should be in the system you now find yourself inhabiting. If you are not intentional about this you will likely default to those areas of leadership you find most familiar which may or may not be what your new setting requires or demands.
- Pray, pray, and pray some more.
You will need intentional, focused time to listen to God and to process what you are hearing from those newly in your care. Set healthy boundaries early on. The expectations around office hours, day off, self-care, work habits, family, etc., will follow you throughout the appointment. Be mindful of the precedents you set.
- Take care of yourself.
Whether you have deeply loved the place you are leaving or if it has been a difficult season of ministry there will be grief. Allow time and space to work through the feelings of loss, hurt, anger, and resentment that may have moved with you.
- Take care of your family.
Transitions can be hardest on those closest to you. Regardless of your excitement about your new appointment it is likely that your spouse and children have friends they are leaving behind. Give them the space and support they need to thrive in a new place.
- Speak kindly of your predecessor.
He or she made mistakes, left things undone, had some failures. Of course, so did we in the place we left behind. We’re all Tom Brady or Bill Belichick on Monday morning. Ego and pride do not serve us or the Kingdom well.
- Christ goes before you.
“But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” – Mark 16.7