Transitional Ministry

You may be wondering what a transitional pastor is and why is his work different from a traditional interim pastor. Here’s a brief look at the two methods:

The traditional interim minister performs all the responsibilities usually expected of the pastor. The congregation is actively forming a search committee, or already engaged in the search and call process for the next pastor. Most traditional interims are retired clergy or have other employment.

The transitional pastor is an experienced minister who has completed over 85 hours of specialized training and fieldwork experience to develop proficiency in this unique ministry. The certified transitional pastor will help the congregation establish a transition team, train the team, and facilitate leading the congregation through five areas called Focus Points of a Healthy Congregation.

These Focus Points are as follows:

  • Heritage: reviewing how the congregation has been shaped and formed
  • Mission: defining and redefining the church’s sense of purpose and direction
  • Leadership: reviewing the congregation’s ways of organizing and developing new and effective clergy and lay leadership
  • Connections: discovering all the relationships and networks a faith community builds beyond itself
  • Future: synthesizing (bringing all focus points together) the interim work, activating and training the pastoral search committee, and coaching the committee to accomplish its work.

Today, every faith community is experiencing transition. This transition may be things like shifting demographics; decreasing membership, attendance, and finances; a need to restructure staff and/or lay leadership; or a no longer vibrant mission/vision. This is a difficult and sometimes stressful, and even painful, experience. When you add to this list a change of pastors, and the anxiety suddenly increases several-fold.

Consequently, the way a congregation chooses to use its interim or transition time will shape congregational growth, identity, and health for years to come. What is done during the transition time really determines whether the new minister, staff, and congregation will form a solid ministry team. This transition time is the ideal opportunity for a congregation to clearly answer the questions: “Who are we?” “Who is God calling us to be in the future?”

Here are some important points regarding the transitional process:

  • Transitional Ministry is not a program. It is a process. Programs are methods that can be repeated in identical format from place to place. The Transitional Ministry process has certain distinctive elements that contribute to its uniqueness.
  • With the assistance of your transition pastor, the church forms a transition team. This team consists of ministry and committee heads; the transition team looks like a microcosm of the church.
  • The transition team does not take over the church. It does not do the work for the church. Instead, the team’s role is to develop strategies to engage the congregation in each process so that the church body will be impacted by the study. Also, the church members will feel ownership of decisions made in the transition period.
  • The transition pastor and the church’s transition team craft a unique process tailored to your particular church. This team identifies focus point issues that need to be reviewed before the next pastor arrives, prepares the health of the church for the next pastor, and identifies the type of leader who needs to be called for the church.
  • The church delays the formation of a Pastor Search Committee until the major work of the self-study is completed. Delaying the pastor search activities actually cuts the overall search process by months, since the church has renewed clarity and strategic focus on the kind of pastor they are seeking.
  • The “genius” behind Transitional Ministry is that the transition pastor must rely on the leadership of the church. It is the leadership that knows the church, the church’s culture, and the church’s history. This transition team is made up of pastoral staff members (in some cases elders), deacons, along with committee and ministry leaders. The transition pastor “coaches” the transition team on the process, but it is the team that leads out in deciding what issues need to be tackled as they select the focus points that need attention. The team knows how best to get the congregation engaged in processing the issues, and the team knows when each focus point has been adequately addressed.
  • The Transition Ministry process also means that the transition team is responsible for knowing when the church is ready to wrap up the self-study and begin the work of finding a new pastor.

The transition pastor helps the transition team prepare a written report for the congregation so that everyone realizes what has been discovered during the process. This written report will also facilitate the team’s making recommendations to the church regarding certain issues within the fellowship.

If your church is in need of this kind of ministry please contact us so we can discuss the possibility of transitional ministry taking place within your congregation.

Published by

Dr. Donnie Gamble

I am a Certified Church Consultant who received my training at Thom Rainer's Church Consultation University. I truly believe the Lord desires to infuse His life back into those many churches that are declining or not keeping up with the growth in their communities. Church Consultation is a wonderful tool in which leadership can find a fresh new vision from God for the local church.

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