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When to Hire a Transitional Pastor

The toughest times for a church are always the months before letting a pastor go, the many months of searching for the right person, and then the months of criticizing all the new programs the new minister instituted. Since these months run sequentially, they delay and retard both the numerical and spiritual progress of a church while fueling the forces that can and most certainly will divide even the best local bodies. By the time a new pastor arrives, there are more fires to put out and more entrenched traditionalists than before. At the same time, young couples seeking the best for their families often seek a stable, mission-minded congregation, draining the resource pool for new and old ministries.

In the past, churches have hired interims to prevent them from slipping in quality and quantity of their services. Why an interim? It is the quick fix or better yet a way to delay a real fix. It is the band-aid on the deep gash. It slows the bleeding and deadens the pain but doesn’t cure the ill. It isn’t the interim’s fault. They do what they are hired to do. They preach and go to the hospital, but they know better than to step into the middle of a family argument over wall or carpet colors. They aren’t there to change the direction of the church or to begin new ministries. They aren’t hired to contextualize the church culture and message to the surrounding population. They simply try to stop the bleeding or at least slow it down.

There is a better option. A transitional pastor is an experienced church leader that has a proven track record of getting a congregation from Place A to Place B. Their role is to transition the church based upon the findings of a consultant or the prayerful vision of the church leaders. A transitional pastor offers the church real leadership through a rough sea of change. The transitional pastor removes staff, changes staff, or brings them together to fulfill a solid vision. He or she adds different styles of music or even a radically different style of service. Yes, some people are not happy with the changes, but the focus of anger is on the transitional pastor and is not transferred to future lead pastor. The transitional pastor gets the church back on its mission, clears up the impurities that have crept in over the years, and does it with authority.

Whether a church is transitioning from a pastor who has fallen, one that has found a new position, or from internal strife, the transitional pastor does the hard work of getting the congregation back on track. Once the church is back on track, it then becomes time to hire that dynamic young preacher who will carry the body of Christ into their next few decades of greatness. Even during this time, the transitional pastor’s work is not done. As John the Baptist said, “He must increase and I must decrease.” The new lead (or senior or teaching) pastor has a guide to walk him through the political pitfalls, the personality struggles, the secret sacred cows, and church’s real power brokers (both alive and dead). The transitional pastor moves to an executive pastor position until the ship is sailing smoothly. When the ship sets to sea and winds blow hard, usually five years, then it is time for the transitional pastor to find their next fulfilling position.

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Tim Ayers has worked in the areas of youth, evangelism, church planting and revitaliztion while building a successful writing career. He has written sixteen books (one is now an audio book). He currently pastors in Western NY with an American Baptist Church.