Six months ago today, our church made our biggest transition in a quarter century.
After being the lead pastor for 25 years, I stepped aside so that Gary Garcia (the youth pastor who has been with me for that entire time) could take my position, while I became the teaching pastor.
I wrote about this transition before, during and immediately after it happened, but the six month point seems like a good time to report on how things are going so far.
How is the church doing? How have they accepted the new pastor? How do we work together now that the lines of authority have shifted?
In a word, it’s working great. On every level.
The church is solid. No one has left due to the transition. Worship, fellowship and ministry are stronger than ever. New leaders are stepping in to their roles. The facility is being upgraded.
The new lead pastor has been completely embraced by the congregation. New people have been added. He, I and the rest of the leadership team are working together smoothly in our new roles.
In addition to the essential factor that we all believe this transition was and is God’s plan for me, the church and its new lead pastor, there are six factors key that are helping this work, and that can help any church navigate necessary changes:
Every major life change has a window of opportunity, like the hand-off zone in a relay race, in which a transition can happen best. Move too early and people feel pushed, too late and you’ve missed the momentum and lost some of your innovators and self-starters.
Our church has gone through several major transitions during my 25 years as lead pastor. By doing so, we’ve developed the skills needed to make bigger changes, including getting the timing right. Developing these skills has allowed us to catch the front end of the transition zone, giving us plenty of time to make the transfer without feeling rushed.
Churches that resist change have a harder time when change is needed. Churches that regularly make smaller transitions hone their transition skills. This includes learning about timing, which serve everyone better when it’s time for larger transitions.
When big changes are needed, there’s no substitute for having strong relationships to build on. Gary and I have worked together for over 25 years, but you don’t need that much time in to develop relationships in your church.
When people know and love each other, they’re far more willing and able to cooperate with necessary changes. Without that, the changes are being made based on other factors, like finances, facilities, long-term plans and so on. None of those will smooth over the rough patches like knowing and caring for the people you’re going through the changes with.
The church that Jesus said he would build was never supposed to be defined by, or built around structures, systems or programs. It was designed to thrive, grow, reproduce and be handed off to the next generation based on relationships.
With each other.
Every program, system, meeting and service the church does is based on relationships. If it doesn’t, it has nothing to stand on – and therefore should and will fall.
But when we base the church – starting with its leaders – on relationships, everything else is better.
3. Task-Oriented Roles
“How can you go from Gary working for you, to you working for Gary?”
It’s a reasonable question. But it really doesn’t apply to us.
Sure, on a technical level, that’s what’s happened. But on a practical level, it’s far less about changing our organizational status than about adapting to new roles.
None of our conversations have been about “who’s in charge on this or that?” They never have been. Instead, we talk about what needs to be done and who’s in the best position to do it.
When our roles are based on getting task done instead of who’s in charge, a lot more gets accomplished and there are fewer egos to bruise.
4. Mission-Centered Focus
This is why a task orientation works. The mission has and will always come first.
It was the mission that told us it was time for a change. It’s the mission that’s the focus of our working relationship. And it’s the mission that shows us who should be doing what.
We talk things through. We assume nothing, question everything, share honestly, and don’t spend a moment worrying about it.
Communication is more than sharing information. It’s the means by which everything else works. Regular, honest and considerate communication helps us figure out the timing, develops the relationships, helps us know who should do what, reminds us of the mission and, lastly, builds and keeps trust.
You can go through a lot with people you trust.
My new lead pastor has never given me one moment’s worry that he might want to push me aside. And I’ve never given him one moment’s worry that I might question his authority, his methods or his new ideas.
The same goes for the rest our leaders. We have their back, and we know they have ours.
Plans are great. Mission statements can be helpful. Timelines can give structure. All of that is helpful. But none of it is an adequate substitute for trusting the people you’re on mission with.
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