· Church Renewal

Help pastors through difficult transitions

By Rick Vance

Following their ordination, pastors agree to serve wherever their pastoral leadership is needed. That doesn’t mean itinerancy is easy.

A change in pastoral assignment marks a critical point in the life and ministry of pastors and their congregations, so it is important for pastors and churches to show grace at every step in the transition.

Announcement of a new appointment

The announcement of a new appointment is generally made by the chair of the Staff-Parish Relationship Committee (SPRC). It may (or may not) be a surprise.

Following the announcement, each member of the congregation can help make the transition a grace-filled event. Encourage your ministry area to stay engaged and continue to support the ministry of the current pastor.

Farewells are always difficult; long-term relationships make it much harder to say goodbye. It is important to remember that not only are you mourning the loss caused by the transition, the pastor may be experiencing the same feelings.

  1. Thank the pastor for his or her faithful service.
  2. Offer assistance in preparations for the move; specify a specific service you might render.
  3. Plan a time for the members of your ministry area to celebrate the pastor’s and family’s ministry. Offer prayers of thanksgiving for their ministry and blessings for their futures.
  4. Work with SPRC and lay leadership to plan a safe celebration (Please be respectful of COVID-19 restrictions).

Remember, all plans need to be coordinated with the pastor and other church leaders.

Welcome the new pastor

When a new pastoral appointment is announced, the first questions asked are: “What is the pastor’s ‘track record’?” “What is he or she like?” “What kind of a preacher and administrator is he or she?”

While these are valid questions, answers by others may not be predictors of your future evaluation and experience. In any event, you have a role in helping the new pastor’s arrival a pleasant one.

  1. Be open to a reality that God is about to bless your church with this new pastor.
  2. Be available to those struggling with the loss caused by the pastoral transition. Encourage them to be positive about possibilities.
  3. Offer the new pastor specific ways you might be able to help with the transition.
  4. Invite the new pastor to meet with members of your ministry area and use that time to pray with your new pastor and for the pastor’s family.
  5. Assist in the planning and attend welcoming events.

The Rev. Dr. Rick Vance is director of the Center for Men’s Ministry at the General Commission on United Methodist Men.

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