I’m excited to have Dennis Gingerich with us today. Dennis is the founding pastor of Cape Christian Church in Florida.
One way or another, every church is going to lose its pastor. Yet very few congregations are preparing for that. Would your church survive if your lead pastor suddenly had to step back from leading? Today Dennis is here to speak with us about what that succession process looked like for him at Cape Christian.
• Start thinking about succession now. For many lead pastors, nurturing, shepherding and growing their church has been their life’s work. The last thing they want is to see the baton passed poorly and their church lose sight of God’s vision for it. Dennis was faced with exactly this question when he was about 50, and he knew he needed to begin an intentional plan toward pastoral succession now. In speaking about Cape Christian Dennis says, “I wanted it to be thriving and going up and to the right in every way five years after I’m out of the lead seat.” Don’t wait to start having conversations about succession. When lead pastors are in their 40s, they should already be thinking about the succession process and who else they can be training up for the future of the church.
• Gradual transition. Succession is a hard adjustment for some people, especially those who have been in the church for a long time and have grown along with it from the beginning. One way to prepare the congregation for the switch is to start doing team teaching. This will expose the community to a variety of voices from the stage. Slowly transition from the previous lead pastor doing most of the teaching to the upcoming lead pastor doing most of the teaching. Do half and half sermon duties a year or months before the full-time switch, then gradually increase the amount of time that the new pastor preaches until he has the full-time duties.
• Step back for the good of the church. If the previous lead pastor will continue to be involved at the church, how do you manage their role while letting someone else take over? It’s important that communication stay open during the transition process so that the new pastor can express whether he needs more or less input from the previous pastor. In all things consider what is best for the church. True leadership comes with being willing to step back for the sake of the organization. Let God work on the parts that may be hard to adjust to at first.
• Develop a timeline. Create a timeline on what tasks will be transitioned to the new pastor and when the transition will take place. Let the new pastor share his ideas and plans multiple times with the rest of the staff through meetings before the formal succession. Over-communicate, both with the staff and your congregation, about all aspects of the transition so that there aren’t any surprises. The goal is to help people understand again and again what can be expected in the days and months ahead. This will help everyone to feel secure about the transition.
• Be open from the beginning. In the interviews, ask the potential pastor if he or she will be able to get along with the former pastor. Will they feel that the previous pastor will be watching over their shoulder, or will they be uncomfortable having that leader so close? Be open ahead of time about the fact that the previous pastor will still be involved so that the new pastor won’t be surprised. Keeping everything open from the beginning will help make the transition as smooth as possible.
This article originally appeared here.