A growing church is always in transition. From building programs to classroom changes to staff adjustments to schedule flexes to responsibility changes to added ministries, a growing church must constantly prepare for the transitions that come with growth.
Transitions aren’t always easy. Generally speaking, transitions that involve people and relationships are more difficult than those that simply involve facilities and schedules. Nevertheless, a growing church must learn to adapt through transition.
For the pastor, this means leading the church family through the transition.
For the church staff, this means supporting the pastor as he makes needed adjustments.
For the church family, this means being flexible and remembering that transition is part of the growth process.
Ministry transitions were common in Scripture. Some were incredibly beneficial and wisely handled. Some were disastrous and poorly planned for. But one of the great moments of transition occurred when Moses passed the mantle of leadership to Joshua.
Through this particular transition, I noticed five aspects of wisely leading a church through transition. In my twenty-six years of pastoring, each one of these actions below are essential for both the pastor and the church staff to embrace.
1. Allow God to Work
Moses really wanted to lead the people into the Promised Land, and Joshua probably would have been happiest to support Moses as he lead the way. But God had a plan that was bigger than either of them could see, and it required that they allow God to work through the transition.
In my earliest years as a pastor, I had a tendency to work so hard to smooth out transitions and guide people through them that it became frustrating to others. Through the years, I’ve had to learn to allow God to work in every heart. Even when I’m not working, God is. Even in difficult changes, Romans 8:28 is still true.
Jesus loves the church far more than we do! We must trust that He is sovereign over the church, and we must give Him room to work.
Before we take any further step to guide a church through transition, we must step back and commit the matter to the Lord. God is greater than I am, and He has a plan for His church. Sometimes transition is a part of God molding us.
One word of caution, however: The more we complain and gossip through transition, the less God can work. Getting carried away with the “what if’s?” and “why me’s?” can be a sign of operating from the flesh. As spiritual leaders and mature Christians, we need to remember that God is in charge. The gold standard of the Christian life is the sovereignty of God.
2. Acknowledge the Leader
The Israelites knew they would miss Moses, yet they committed to follow Joshua: “According as we hearkened unto Moses in all things, so will we hearken unto thee: only the Lord thy God be with thee, as he was with Moses” (Joshua 1:17).
Hebrews 13:7 confirms how important it is to acknowledge and follow spiritual leaders: “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.”
Remember that transitions are difficult periods of adjustment for everyone—including the leader. During these times, it is always appropriate to express encouragement and support to the leader. Simply letting him know that you are praying for him and are thankful for his leadership can go a long way in helping to bear the load of the one who is feeling the brunt of the transition.
3. Affirm the People
Moses instructed Joshua, “Be strong and of a good courage” (Deuteronomy 31:7). If there is anything I want to be for our church family it is strong and of a good courage!
I want to follow the instruction of Ephesians 4:29 and speak “that which is good to the use of edifying” and be a minister of the grace of God.
If you are in any role—as a pastor or church leader—in guiding a church through transition, determine to purposefully do whatever you can to encourage people. Ask yourself, “Who especially needs my encouragement and help?” Then go out of your way to affirm others.
Love people. Invite them to your home. Write notes. Reiterate the Lord’s and the pastor’s love for them. Be an encourager through times of change.
4. Accept Responsibility
During transition, it’s vital that leaders accept responsibility. This is the time to say, “I will get done what I have been assigned, and nobody is going to have to worry about my responsibilities.”
This is also a time to accept responsibility for the needs of others. During transition, it is easy for people to disconnect or to “fall through the cracks.” These are times when everyone needs to be sensitive to others and purposefully go the extra mile in helping to bear the burdens of others.
5. Anticipate the Blessings
Remember, transition is often a part of growth! Difficult as it may be at times, it is part of a larger picture.
Over and over, I have seen that God blesses people who are faithful during transition. These faithful servants are positioned to receive and enjoy the blessings God brings through the transitions!