by Grady King –
The calls come often. “We’re looking for a preacher and wonder if you have any names we could contact.” My first response is always “Tell me about your congregation” followed by “What happened to your last preacher?” and the big question— “What is your process?” The vast majority of the time there is not much of a process and even less consideration to the season of transition for the congregation.
The transition of a preacher is a significant event in the life of a congregation. I spent my childhood in western Oklahoma where the wind did come sweeping down the plain and tumbleweeds raced across the roads sticking together against barbed wired fences. When ignited, they crackled and hissed, hot and quick. The transition of a preacher is wind that blows through a congregation in much the same way. Like tumbleweeds blown against the fence, people gather against the barbs—of being sad, glad and mad. The emotions are fires in the soul—the cracking and hissing of transition.
At the risk of oversimplifying, when the church hears of the transition, three primary emotional responses surface: Sad. Glad. Mad. As the news blows through the congregation conversations about the future quickly make their way to the elders while emotions continue to surface in a variety of ways. Some people, in their sadness, create distance in a wait and see posture. Others immediately rally friends to let the elders know the kind of preacher “we really need.” While others, who are mad because of the disruption, seek reasons why the minister had to leave and vent to their favorite elder. It is an emotional process with many nuances of sad, glad and mad. It takes time. Rushing to find a new preacher ASAP is the worst thing to do.
4 Essentials in Time of Transition:
- Pray UP!
Pray without ceasing—in the worship assembly, classes, groups, and special times of prayer focused on trusting God and being people of faith, hope and love.
- Slow DOWN
Getting in a hurry is certain disaster. Grief takes time. Slowing down does not mean doing nothing. Having a plan for consistency in preaching and engaging in ministry is essential. Caution—having a different preacher every week is okay for a brief season, but the congregation will grow weary.
- Look IN!
Transition is an opportune season to look at who you are as a church: identity, vision, mission, values, congregational culture. Doing a church health assessment and engaging the church in conversation is well worth the time.
- Reach OUT!
At the risk of sounding self-serving, consider a conversation with a consultant who can provide process and guidance. It is not about telling you what to do, rather, being an outside, informed facilitator of process. This person can help you have the conversations about leadership, church and the future. Yes, everyone knows the “elephant in the room” that is always avoided. It often keeps you stuck. A good consultant can help.
Long before looking at resumes’ and listening to sermons is the question—“Who in the world are we?
Remember the tumbleweeds!