Our pastoral transition happened during a major building program. Prior to the transition we had acquired land and begun site work. Shortly after the transition, we began construction on the building.
And although we had a construction manager, I continued to serve as the owner’s representative, and the majority of my time for more than two years was given to the construction process.
Balancing Continuity and Change
Shortly after becoming pastor I negotiated the sale of our existing building. We were blessed with a lease-back agreement, but because our construction was delayed nearly two years, we gradually lost use of our old building as the new owner occupied more and more of the building. The final year we were in our old building, we lost use of everything but the sanctuary. We had no classrooms, kitchen, offices, gym, prayer rooms, or baptistery. This had a major impact on our ministry model.So how does one be a successor? I think I can summarize it in two tasks that are at times in tension: I must be a gracious steward of a legacy, and I must cast a bold vision for the future. Click To Tweet
Managing the construction was physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting. It also seemed like we experienced spiritual resistance during this time, especially as we made progress with our new building. We did not fill the assistant pastor role for eighteen months, and our full-time youth pastor resigned to pastor one of our daughter works. We finally hired one person to fill the assistant pastor and youth pastor roles. We also had a lot of turnover on our leadership team during this time, all due to normal reasons.
In short, our church was going through great transition on many levels. The million-dollar question truly was, How does one serve as a successor in such a situation? I succeeded a great pastor and was responsible to lead a church with a tremendous legacy. However, I was bound by limited staff, limited resources, much transition, and a crippling workload. It seemingly was my lot to lead this great church into greater victory with fewer resources.
I learned very quickly that continuity is equally as important as change.
I wanted to prepare the church for the inevitable changes that were unfolding, but I also wanted to assure them our DNA was not changing.
Major change was forced upon the church, so I chose not to change anything that did not have to be changed. The church needed to know that our identity was not going to change.
Trusted ministries were not going to change. Core ministry models would remain the same. However, when change was essential, I connected it to vision. People are more capable of accepting change when they can see the benefits and how it is tied to progress.
I wanted to prepare the church for the inevitable changes that were unfolding, but I also wanted to assure them our DNA was not changing. I also had Brother Bernard preach every time he was in town. The people needed to know he and I were in agreement, and I needed his support for the vision I was trying to cast.
Honoring the Past
The Bernards still attend our church. Sister Bernard is in town more than Brother Bernard, and she is involved in our music program and maintains positive relationships with many in our congregation. Brother Bernard is here less, but I often have him preach when he is in town, less now than the first few years, but still frequently. He still preaches with a unique authority in our church, and this is a voice we need to hear.
The transition has been challenging for them as well as they have stepped back from their role as pastor and pastor’s wife. They have been a tremendous support to me and my wife. I owe a great debt to Brother Bernard. In large part, I owe this opportunity to pastor to him, and therefore I choose to honor him.
The greater challenge has probably been the transition between our wives, and they both have handled the transition graciously. They both have felt the stress of this transition, but their love for one another has helped them manage this difficult time.
Although the Bernards are not involved in the day-to-day operations, they know what is going on. I want them to know how the church is progressing, how we are changing, and major transitions in the lives of people they converted and nurtured. They have been great confidants and a confidential sounding board. They know this church better than anyone else, so we can talk to them about challenges and victories, and they understand. Sometimes we just need someone to vent to. In our situation, there is no one better than the former pastor and his wife.
How to Be a Successor
So how does one be a successor? I think I can summarize it in two tasks that are at times in tension: I must be a gracious steward of a legacy, and I must cast a bold vision for the future. As challenging as it may be at times, I remind myself that this opportunity was made possible by God and strongly ratified by the church.
I was chosen to be pastor, which is a mandate to lead the church forward. Successors are to lead courageously as God enables. Our predecessors faced their challenges, and they answered the call by leading. If we are faithful, someday we will hand off great churches to younger men.
As a pastor, finding a successor is my greatest concern. I am forty-four. This means my successor may be in our youth group. He may not even be saved yet. Whomever it may be, he will have to navigate these difficult waters himself. I hope I will be as gracious as my predecessor.
A version of this content originally appeared in Forward.
(Find Part 1 here.)
Rodney Shaw is senior pastor of New Life United Pentecostal Church of Austin.
Resources and Links by Rodney Shaw
Churchwork: Rodney Shaw provides pastors, ministry leaders, and volunteers invaluable wisdom and insight to optimize the performance of ministry teams. With fresh perspectives on follower-centric leadership and courageous followership, this book will bring clarity to your vision. As you begin to implement the principles in this book, you can expect to see results.
Other resources by Rodney Shaw – We hear the word “faith” a lot, but what does it mean practically and how can we grow in faith. This gifted communicator helps us do just that.