A church in a pastoral transition can be an exciting community with a sense of anticipation about how God will work to bring about a fruitful and blessed future, or it can be a place of foreboding where people worry about what has been lost. Some churches may find themselves stuck in the middle neither going forward or back. To keep your congregation healthy it is best to lay some myths about churches in pastoral transition aside. Here are three common ones I have seen over the years.
1. We need to wait for our new pastor to do ministry.
The apostle Peter tells us. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9 NRSV) Each person in your congregation is called to his or her own discipleship path, each is given unique gifts by the Holy Spirit to use to help others and give glory to God. That does not change in a transition of leadership. Indeed, this can be a time when you can discover gifts you never knew you had. We can see this during our worship each Sunday. The word liturgy means service of the people, not just the pastor. Think if you had a hymn and only the pastor sung it. It would not be as beautiful as if the whole church sang it together. Education, Community Service, Evangelism and Stewardship work the same way. The work of the church belongs to all. The church that keeps up momentum becomes a more attractive church to potential candidates to be your pastor.
2. We can't do anything new until we get our new pastor.
This is patently false. A congregation with its ear to the ground can start new initiatives at any time. For example, if you have previously relied on your pastor to follow up with visitors, the pastoral vacancy is an opportunity to become a more welcoming and hospitable church by having lay volunteers set up a process to welcome newcomers to your community. In addition if your church does not have a prayer group, a pastoral vacancy is great time to start one. A gathering of 5-6 people to pray for God to open the door for the right leader is a great step for any congregation in transition. Committing to prayer will help the congregation ask the right questions and be willing to look at new possibilities that God may provide for the best possible future.
3. No one will join until we get a new pastor.
People join churches for many reasons, not just the pastor. People usually stay in churches because of the connections they make within the congregation. People that do not have two or three strong connections in the church usually drift away over time. A church in transition can attract new people to their community if they are hospitable and welcoming. If there is someone you don't recognize, just ask for his or her name and strike up a conversation. Your church may have the best location, size, worship style, Sunday school, youth group, or Bible study for a potential member. So this is a great time to invite a friend to church, they will meet the wonderful people of your congregation. A church that prepares to grow will more likely grow than a church that just sits back and does the same old thing.
A congregation needs to prepare for its new pastor.
While it is critical for congregations to look at their finances, the state of their parsonage, and paint the pastor's office to get ready for a new pastor, the most important way to prepare for a pastor is to tend to ministry. The more things that the congregation can learn to handle during the vacancy will help free up space and time for the new pastor to use his or her gifts for the benefit of the church when he or she arrives. There is one final myth I would like to bust, which is: a new pastor will grow our church. Churches grow when pastor and people work together to prepare an environment where growth can happen. There is no reason for the people of a congregation in transition to wait to do their part. The funny thing is s church preparing for the future is more likely to see blessings of the present. A pastoral transition can be a time of fun and excitement as the people pull together for the sake of the Gospel.