Matt met with our senior pastor to break the news that he had accepted a job offer from the city police department. This meant in two weeks he would be stepping down as worship pastor.
"How'd it go?" I whispered afterwards.
"He looked like he was going to die," muttered Matt.
As word got around the church, there were similar reactionsshock, dismay, surprise. It was hard to imagine what was going to happen to the worship ministry with Matt gone. He was an effective and much-loved leader.
When I started I did not clearly explain what my role would be. Later, things got messy.
Although he had been the worship pastor for only three years, his strong leadership had developed our worship ministry to a high level of excellence. People were happy that Matt was able to pursue a job he had wanted all his life, but questions lingered.
How would the ministry continue? How would we make it without our fun-loving leader, Matt? Who would lead in the short term? How would we find a new worship pastor? How long would it take?
Transitions are an uncertain, even frightening time. The stability of the organization is suddenly upset, the future is a big question mark.
Not surprisingly, the key to a successful transition lies in leadership. Whoever takes over during the transition time faces this challenge: how do you lead the transition so the ministry strengthens instead of stagnates?
Find Someone You Trust
Although I did not realize it at the time, preparation for our transition began more than a month before Matt formally announced his leaving. He sat down with me when he began testing for the police department.
"I've been thinking about what would happen if I got the job," he said. "We will need a leader for the worship ministry until a new pastor is found. I think you're the obvious choice."
My first reaction was dismay. Just a few weeks earlier I had said to him, "I am glad you are in charge because I would never want your job!" But Matt explained his thinking. He said that I was the only person familiar with all aspects of the ministry, everyone knew me, and I had already been attending the staff meetings. He made sense and eventually I agreed to accept the role.
Rather than tapping an outside leader, the best option is often to have a known and respected person within the ministry take the interim leadership. Such people have developed relationships, established credibility, and have proven themselves responsible. Their strengths and weaknesses are already known and won't surprise or disappoint people.
In some cases, however, it may be wiser to bring an outsider to lead the ministry. Examples may include traumatic situations where people are too emotionally damaged to take leadership, or where significant healing is required. Sometimes an outsider may be the only option if a ministry has no capable leader to take over.
Once a temporary leader is selected, the next step is to establish firm support. The outgoing leader's affirmation of the new leader makes a world of difference in how the new leader starts. People have fewer doubts concerning who is in charge, especially if the decision is clearly supported by the senior pastor and church leadership.
Before he left, Matt announced to the ministry that I would be taking over and encouraged everyone to support me. The senior pastor also stepped in to take any heat that might come my way. "Just send all the complaints to me," Pastor Mark said. Without their outspoken support, my leadership would have been much more difficult.