6 Truths to Encourage You During Pastoral Transition
Somewhere right now a church is losing its lead pastor. For whatever reason, this man is leaving, the church has moved into a time of transition, and the members feel like they’ve had the wind knocked out of them.
He has loved them, fed them, and protected them. He has doctored their wounds and rejoiced when they rejoiced. But now this man is moving away, and sadness and discouragement well up.
If your church is in this scenario, I simply want to hearten you with six biblical truths.
1. God will be with this church at all times.
You are not forsaken. God is with your congregation. “I will never leave your or forsake you,” (Heb 13:5). Pastors will come and go. Only God will never leave us. And the presence of God is more vital to the life of the church.
2. God is in control.
God “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). Do you believe that? This pastoral transition is not happening outside of the will of God. God is working this according to the counsel of his will. So the question is not, “Who is in control?” God is in control. The question is, “Will you rest in him by trusting him?”
3. God plans good out of this transition.
It might not feel good right now, but God has promised that he works all things together for the good of his people (Rom 8:28). Is your church part of his people? If so, this transition is included in “all things”? Therefore, you can rest assured that good will come from it. That’s how awesome God is: even those things that don’t feel good are used for good. It might not be the good you have in mind, but it is good. Therefore, walk forward in faith.
4. It’s okay to weep.
While good will come out this pastoral transition, that doesn’t remove the deep sadness. Losing your pastor hurts. I’m reminded of how the Ephesian elders wept at Paul’s goodbye: “And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship” (Acts 20:36-38).
I believe the Ephesians knew that God would be with them, that he was in control, and that he was going to bring good out of this transition. Nevertheless, they wept. And it’s okay to weep. It’s actually a way of saying thank you to both God and your pastor.
5. Ministry must go on.
Notice what the Great Commission does not say, “Go therefore and make disciples . . . if you have a pastor.”
One church that I used to work with lost their pastor. When I’d call their lay leaders about a ministry opportunity, their answer was always, “Well, you see, we just don’t have a pastor right now.” They had forgotten that ministry must continue in the interim. The Great Commission doesn’t include any conditionals.
Does ministry become a bit harder without a pastor leading? Probably so, but if he was a good pastor, he will have obeyed Ephesians 4:11-12 by equipping the saints for the work of the ministry. In the interim, you and the lay leadership of the church must make sure ministry continues. Get to work!
6. The church must not scatter.
Jesus promised the flock would scatter at his crucifixion (Mat 26:31). For a season, that’s exactly what happened. The same often happens in churches during pastoral transition. Because “their” pastor is no longer there or ministry begins to lag, folks trickle out. Some reasons for going might be legitimate, but this may also be the time in which the congregation should most strongly gather together for support and encouragement.
Recognize the temptation to scatter and work more diligently to stay bound together in unity and love. This will be a season of testing for you. I know you didn’t ask for it, but with God’s help, you’ll endure it.
For churches currently in this situation: May the interim bring blessings you never expected, and I pray that God provides a new pastor for your church soon.