As a pastor, when God begins to stir the heart of a staff member to another place of ministry, my heart is always to help them clearly discern God’s will, support them in following it, and guide our church family through any transition that may be involved.
Because the Lord has allowed Terrie and me to stay in one church for over three decades and because our ministry employs two–three hundred people, we’ve experienced more than one staff transition. In fact, there are twenty men who have at one time served on our staff and are now senior pastors. I thank the Lord for how He is using each of them and am thankful for the ways they worked together in creating a smooth transition from Lancaster Baptist Church to their new churches.
One transition that we are currently walking through is helping our music pastor, Jon Guy, and his family who are leaving later this summer to plant a new church in Tempe, Arizona. I’m thrilled for Jon and Amy, and I know the Lord is going to use them.
In this post, I’d like to share several thoughts about the components to an effective staff transition, using Jon Guy’s situation as an illustration.
What are the significant elements to an effective staff transition?
1. Healthy Working Relationships
This is not something you hurry up and develop when a staff member tells you they are considering leaving. You want to be sure that along the way, you have been developing a healthy, grace-based environment that acknowledges everyone on the team is fundamentally serving the Lord.
One of the signs of an unhealthy ministry culture is when people believe that everyone who leaves is bad and everyone who stays is good. In reality, a church is not measured only by seating capacity, but also by sending capacity.
On a recent retreat to San Diego with some of our staff leaders, I invited Jon to share his testimony of how the Lord has been redirecting him so we could all rejoice and pray for him and his family. These kinds of moments help everyone understand an upcoming transition.
2. Open Communication
Ongoing, open communication between the pastor and staff members regarding ministry goals and intentions is so important. Sometimes in a larger ministry, this conversation happens with an executive pastor. When someone makes a sudden decision to leave and simply announces that to the pastor, that makes the transition much more challenging for everyone.
In Jon’s case, he began sharing with me several months ago how the Lord was working in his heart. This wasn’t something that just sprung up as the result of underlying, unresolved issues that were kept from me and then suddenly dumped out with an announcement of leaving.
Honestly, it’s always a bit awkward to talk about someone’s departure when you haven’t had those kinds of conversations before. But God’s grace gives the ability to pursue this kind of communication.
Unless there is an urgent situation on the other end of a transition, it’s so helpful when a staff member who is leaving is willing to give time between their decision and their transition. This allows for time for the upcoming change to settle in with people as well as time to work through training a replacement.
A pastor must also be patient through this season. This is not something to rush through, but to consider the needs of the church family and to provide patient and prayerful leadership.
In Jon’s case, I was able to meet with the adult Sunday connection group that he leads to explain what he would be doing and at the same time introduce them to their new teacher. Last night, we enjoyed hosting this same class at our home for great Mexican food. While they are a group of young Christians who are saddened to see the Guys leave, they are excited to get acquainted with their new teacher, Thomas Shepherd.
Similarly, I was able to meet with our church choir and orchestra to not only encourage them to pray for the Guys, but also to cast vision for them related to their upcoming new director, John Williams, who has over two decades of experience and is excited to provide training and opportunities for musical growth.
With the benefit of time, Jon is also able to train those who will be overseeing the various aspects of ministry he currently handles.
Another aspect of a transition is the point of the year in which it happens. Although the Guys are eager to move forward in what they know God is calling them to do and plan to launch out later this summer, it is a tremendous help that Jon was willing to stay through this year’s Spiritual Leadership Conference, which is one of the key annual events that he helps coordinate.
Also, the fact that he stayed long enough for us to be able to transition Daniel Hopkins (who will be our new music program director) from our Christian school to the church and to be able to hire John Williams (who will be our new choir and congregational director), has been so helpful.
When people leave a ministry, they aren’t going to do everything exactly like the ministry they left in every way. Allow people to grow, come to their own conclusions, and develop biblical philosophy. And give them grace throughout the process.
I believe that doctrinally and philosophically Jon will be pleasing to the Lord. But I also expect that he will do things somewhat differently than we do. This is part of being an independent Baptist.
Everyone who has ever left Lancaster Baptist Church staff to go to another ministry has done so with recommendation letters, gift certificates, encouraging notes from me, and expressions of appreciation from our deacons and church family. We typically hold some type of reception—either church-wide or for their direct area of ministry, depending on what group of the church body they served.
Staff transitions can be a challenging aspect of leadership if they are not handled prayerfully, gracefully, and with wisdom. But they can also be a positive aspect of growth—for everyone involved—when they are within God’s will and are worked through with His grace.