5 Transitioning Tips for Leaders
Transitions are tasks that should never be taken lightly. They can almost be overwhelming depending on the circumstances involved. Like many pastors, I never thought I would consider such a thing, but nevertheless I found myself at a crossroad. During those 18 months I found myself wrestling with one of the most difficult decisions of my life; the closing of our 5 1/2 year old church plant. While there were many different factors that led to this point (which will be covered in a later post), this particular post will focus solely on the leader and not the church. Speaking more to the lessons I have learned during this critical time of transitioning as a Pastor.
1. Discern God’s Will for Your Current Church
This should be the first priority because it is the primary duty of the pastor to care for the congregation entrusted to him. Before coming to a final decision to close our church, for over a year, much prayer was involved, wise counsel was extended, and I also reached out to other experienced leaders/pastors. I wanted to be certain that this wasn’t an emotional decision, but rather true instruction from God. I was careful not to consider any other positions until I was clear about how God wanted me to handle my current position. I wanted nothing to distract me from clearly seeing where He was leading me.
Although every situation is different, this principle was a great help to me; with one guiding question that stood out the most: What does God want for this church? Look beyond yourself and your emotions to see what God wants the shepherd to do with His sheep.
2. Discover God’s Unique Design For You and Your Ministry
Being released from this assignment was one of the biggest decisions of my life. This would be the first experience of going through a pastoral search process so I began conducting an extended amount of research to become familiar with everything I needed to know. What I discovered was very simple yet revolutionary: If you don’t know who you are you will not recognize the opportunity that fits you best. The primary goal is to find the right fit, but one must know their own shape in order to find the right fit. There have been many stories that have surfaced from churches and pastoral search firms about the number of leaders who seem to be searching for jobs rather than callings. I do realize there are some other important elements to finding your next position but when we begin to view ministry as a job and no longer a calling, we can expect things will not end well.
During this phase of the process I challenge you to ask some tough questions in an effort to discover who you are. A guiding question here was: What callings or causes are you most passionate about? To help with this I would suggest two assessments:
- Strengths Finder 2.0 — This assessment aids in discovering the major themes of your life. For instance, visionary was number one for me. I am most fulfilled when I have an opportunity to cast compelling vision to drive the Kingdom forward. Knowing your strengths also make it easier to explain who you are to potential churches.
- DISC Test — This is more of a personality assessment that helps you rediscover some of the qualities that best describe who you are and how you work under pressure.
In addition to all of this I found that setting a barrier of 3-6 months was a wise choice. Do not underestimate the amount of invisible baggage you and your family may be carrying. Take time to expose and honestly address those things that may have infiltrated your heart. The best gift you can give to your new church is a Spirit-led leader who is healthy and ready to serve with an open heart.
3. Develop Criteria For Your Next Stage Of Ministry
As I began to prepare for the next ministry assignment, I had no idea the available opportunities for ministry were so broad. There are literally thousands of open ministry positions available. As eye-opening as that was for me, I discovered very quickly that I needed to clarify my calling beyond the general idea of a “pastor”. I suggest the same for you. Are you called to be a senior pastor or a staff pastor? What size church will you work best in? Has God called you to a specific region, state, or city? What are your spouse’s needs? All of these questions are important and play a major role in the next ministry assignment.
Another important part of this phase is deciding the non-negotiables. For example, team ministry is a non–negotiable for me. Coming from a context where much of the weight of leadership and oversight was placed upon myself, I now understand how exhausting this can be and know that it’s not conducive to long-term growth. As a result, being a part of a team of leaders who share in the responsibility of leading the church is a non-negotiable as I move forward. Your lists of priorities will may vary due to the fact of our differences in experiences, but its critical to know the areas where you will not compromise. A few things to also consider are theology, doctrine, leadership structure, spousal and family expectations.
4. Decide Who Will Help You In The Process
Walking into your next ministry assignment is not a task to be taken lightly. I think it is a huge mistake to go this process alone, especially when there are so many resources available to help. One such resource that helped assist me has been the Slingshot Group. Their questionnaires help clarify your call and their communications were very helpful. Vanderblomen has been another great resource. A much larger firm that also specializes in mega church opportunities. Their biggest benefit to me was their blog which offered an array of wisdom for the search process. I discovered that thousands of pastors are searching for jobs at any moment. So finding the right fit can be like a needle in a haystack. Thankfully, firms like these and more will help clarify your call and help you find the right position that is conducive to your calling.
Lastly, post your resume online. I had my resume digitized at fiverr.com for, you guessed it, $5. That small investment netted me a professional resume that would stand out. I also included a family picture along with my resume and posted to a website link, churchstaffing.com; which allowed my resume to be strategically placed within reach of those ministries who were in search of a pastor.
5. Do it!
Due to the many things to consider, it is imperative that we still remember this is a very spiritual process. It must be supported with lots or prayer and wise counsel. There is no way for this process to go well without a strong dependence on God. But much like God’s activity throughout the Bible, there will always be a human element involved. Surprisingly enough, I assumed this would be a totally spiritual process that saw me as an innocent bystander, but what I soon discovered is that this new position requires activity on my part. I was sure to research and do some studying on what was happening in the church nationwide, as well as regional church trends. I did all of this in an effort to expose myself to new possibilities and found that exposure has the ability to bring clarity to the leading of the Holy Spirit in your life.
For instance, very early in the process I felt a burden for diversity in the church. I wanted to be actively involved in a church that was aiming to be gospel-centered in a diverse area. When the burden first arrived I didn’t have much of a context for what that should or would look like, but once I started searching I found several churches that had captured that vision. This exposure served as fuel for my faith.
In addition, I also suggest that you read the job descriptions from several different jobs to get an overview of what some of the general expectations are. Study where you are going both physically and ideologically. Together, all of these principles have been at work in my life for the past 18 months. How are you handling your season of transition? I would love to hear some tips that you would add.