Back in the 1970s, Loren Mead identified “Five Developmental Tasks” for transitional leaders. In the next few weeks, some of you will be moving to a new church and/or your church may be recieving new leadership. These five tasks provide a check list for healthy transition:
1) Help the congregation come to terms with its History.
For the lame duck pastor, this means helping the congregation view the coming move in the context of the church’s larger lifespan. Pastors come and go. The church goes on. Looking at history has a way of diminishing our myopic obsession with personalities. History is something we come to terms with. We must each accept our failures and dropped balls. Both Pastors and Congregations can be gently led to make confessions and receive forgiveness and assurance.
For the new pastor, coming to understand the congregation’s history is vital. New comers to a family system (all congregations are complex family systems) can easily blunder into hidden conflicts and cross-cultural taboos. Knowing the congregation’s history also provides valuable clues about the church’s sense of identity. Further, asking long time church members to tell you the story of their congregation is a great way to show that you care and are willing to listen.
2) Help the congregation to discover a new sense of Identity.
Church leaders often fall into the trap of confusing their congregation’s identity with the aspirations and personality of their current pastor. A lay person will say, “We are very mission-minded here at First UMC.” In actuality, the long suffering pastor who has been at First for fifteen years has had to use all of her energy to get them to do the minimum of outreach. There is a brief moment between pastors, when churches are free to think about who they are when they aren’t trying to please the pastor. I believe each congregation has a unique calling from God. Their true identity is something that remains constant, even as pastors come and go. A new pastor is more likely to be successful in taking them to the next level if they can help the congregation discover a new sense of identity that aligns with latent personality or DNA that the church is already familiar with.
3) Set in motion needed Leadership Change.
When you leave your current assignment, there will always be some church leaders who will use this opportunity to step down from their positions. It may be that they were tired and didn’t want to tell you, or that they feel the new pastor should will need a new broom to bring in sweeping changes. You can help by informing the new pastor of these changes. Further, there are some office holders that need a nudge to leave where they are ineffective and move onto an area of service that the new pastor will find beneficial.
As a new pastor, you will want to involve as many new leaders as you can in the committee structure of the church. People who, like you, are relatively new to the congregation, are more likely to support the changes you will be inviting the congregation to consider.
4) Help the congregation to renew the relationship it has with its Denomination.
For United Methodists, every change in pastoral appointment brings a renewed interest in the local church’s relationship to the conference. Paying apportionments (mission share) and participating in district functions are always positive attributes for a congregation. It is easier to build healthy habits and restore strained relationships during a pastoral change. No matter how you feel about your own experience of the appointment process, it is vital that you present the denomination in a good light. The people do not need to hear your personal complaints. Further, a good relationship with the denomination will be a good thing for the local church in the long run. It is in their interest that they do all they can to be a church in good standing.
5) Help the laity commit to new Directions in ministry.
Just as you are trying to grow as a person and take your professional skills to the next level by participating in a move, so also the churches involved are committing themselves to traveling a new direction in ministry. It is your responsibility to help the church you are leaving be open to new ideas and opportunities. It is also your responsibility to help your next church make the transition to where their ministry needs to be in the future.
These five words: History, Identity, Leadership Change, Denomination, and Direction, are key to promoting healthy attitudes in congregations as they change pastors.