How to Handle Transition in Ministry
As I sat in a weekend service at church, the pastor said, “Most of us will not finish our lives in the churches we are currently in.” My eyes and ears perked up because I didn’t really think about it and I wondered if he was right. Over the past eight years of ministry, I have seen there will inevitably be change. Leaders will leave. For 99% of us, we will leave. But how do we handle transition? How do we honor God in a time of change?
In the fall of 2018, I found myself in the middle of trying to figure out how to handle transition. The director of our college ministry was stepping away, and I was stepping into the role of leading the ministry. I wish I could say that everything was smooth, and that things weren’t awkward, but I can’t. This transition was one of the hardest seasons of my life with Christ, but I saw God’s faithfulness through every step of the way. Here are some ways I managed the transition of leadership.
Honor the past
Honoring the past isn’t just for people experiencing a smooth transition. Even if you are picking up the crumbs from a bad transition, we have to honor what God has done before you. Despite your opinion of how things were run before you were in charge, God was on the move in the hearts of the people who were attending the ministry before you. One surefire way to disenfranchise people is to talk badly about the leader who was in charge before you.
Cast vision for the future
We should honor what God has done in the past, but we must quickly cast vision for what we believe God wants to do in the future of the ministry. Where are you going? How can they be a part of what God is doing?
This was one key to success in my transitioning into leadership of our young adult ministry. I sought God hard and as he provided vision. All I had to do was share to the best of my ability what I believed God was showing me for the future of our ministry. God brought the leaders and kept the leaders who were on board for the vision He was casting.
We have all read that without vision, the people perish. Without a vision for people to see, many leaders will move on somewhere else where there is a clear vision for where the ministry is headed. Spend some time with God and ask Him what His vision for your ministry is and how you can successfully cast that vision to the people around you.
Leave the results to God
What happens if everyone leaves? What happens if you aren’t as “successful” as the leader before you? These questions were constantly ringing in my mind as I stepped into a leadership role. Then the unthinkable happened. Two weeks after I took over, our church roof blew off. We had to change everything when it came to the logistics of ministry and how we did our services. Then, six months after that, COVID… God was teaching me that the “results” were not up to me and that He was going to grow His kingdom, not me. Are we truly trusting God with the results of ministry or are we trying to manufacture fruit in order to seem successful?
Do the heart work
People will leave. They will gossip. They won’t like your style as much as the old leader. They won’t understand you. The list could go on and on and on. If we want to burn out, the last thing we should do is not work through the hardships of transition. It is much easier to let our hearts be hardened by people leaving and continuing to hurt us in various ways. We must be committed to working through the bumps and bruises of ministry to continue to have a heart to serve the people around us. Be quick to forgive. Be quick to maintain a soft heart, and yes, it takes a lot of work.
The next generation may be the best and most successful at smelling out phonies. One way to run off people is to pretend to be someone that you are not. The only way to build true community is through authenticity. There isn’t much else that attracts people to someone than a man or woman knowing who God has called them to be and courageously living it out. This will lead them towards a deeper desire to discover who God has called them to be!
Prepare to Leave
I am sure that if you are in the middle of transitioning into a position, the last thing you are thinking about is leaving. I wasn’t planning my exit either, but I took the time to take notes on how I would want to leave better than the leader who was before me. Whenever God calls you to the next thing, you will have some tangible ways to help set the example of how to leave well.
In order to transition well we must equip the next generation of leaders behind us. As we step into leadership we should start to identify leaders who we can train in order to replace ourselves someday. We are called to equip the saints for the work of ministry, and as we do so we may just work ourselves out of our own job!
If you ask around you will hear horror stories of how people have left poorly. Let’s be committed to changing that narrative and let’s set the example of how to leave well for the next generation to follow!