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Home > 2014 > March Online Only > Six Surprises in My New Pastorate

Last year I transitioned from associate pastor to senior pastor of Grace Community Church (GCC), a church of around 500 people in a small community west of Salem, Oregon.

The change came after a year-long transition, so the church was able to adjust slowly to the change in leadership. The transition year was essential, as most of the people in the church began attending under the leadership of our previous senior pastor, Guy Basso.

Our church had a relatively smooth pastoral transition. Yes, there are those who liked it better before. Yes, we heard grumblings from people. Yes, a few families decided that this is a good time for their family to transition somewhere else. However, we are experiencing slow and steady growth. We have seen consistent giving that has enabled us to accomplish the ministry for which we are called. In spite of some minor grumblings, we have experienced a season of peace and unity.

Many leadership transitions involve stories of infighting and division. Not this one. In fact, I was surprised by how smoothly it all went. Yet, there were still some things for which I was unprepared. What follows are six surprises about my pastoral transition.

An unusual predecessor

One thing that smoothed the process was the actions of my predecessor. I didn't know it at the time, but seven years ago, when I was hired to be the youth pastor, he began eying me as a potential successor. Around five years before the transition, he began to encourage me to think about going to seminary. Knowing that a potential transition would take place when I was in my early 30s, he knew that I would need education to fill in some gaps. During my time in seminary, my role at the church began to gradually change. I transitioned out of youth into overseeing the adult ministry in the church, which included overseeing church staff. Our pastor also began training new elders that would be in place during the pastoral transition. Each of them knew and supported the proposed plan to have me succeed him.

One year before I graduated from seminary, Pastor Guy announced his retirement. He outlined a transition plan for the next year. The church voted me as his successor eight months before his retirement date, and I was ordained five months later. For his last sermon series, he preached on what it took for a church to be healthy. In that series, he addressed potential concerns and problems we might face and how to counteract them as a church. By the time he retired, the change was almost anti-climactic because of his proactive attitude and careful planning.

...

You can't communicate enough

The most difficult aspect of the transition was communicating with the church. At times it seemed that no matter how hard we tried to communicate well, our efforts fell short. Our church attendees were informed consistently and well in advance about the upcoming transition. What was shocking was the number of people who were still out of the loop. Months after ...

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Posted: March 3, 2014

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Displaying 1–3 of 3 comments

Jeff Riley

March 05, 2014  2:35pm

I think sometimes in pastoral ministry when facing issues we can wonder is this just me? I appreciate you sharing your experiences that will encourage the rest of us in ministry. I think your story is also a testimony to raising up leaders in the church. Sounds like you were blessed to serve under the leadership of your previous pastor.

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WILLIE C Williams

March 05, 2014  10:08am

Insightful!!!!!!!!

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Dave Weidlich

March 04, 2014  1:24pm

One thing I did not fully appreciate during my 12 years as an associate was the extent to which the Sr. Pastor was providing cover so I could focus on ministry with people, recruiting leaders, teaching classes and leading small groups. All the while, he was going to bat with the elders for budget and building resources, fielding complaints, resolving conflicts and, occasionally, putting out fires I started. Later, when I served churches as Solo Pastor and Sr Pastor, I developed a fuller appreciation for the burdens the main guy carries.

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