The average tenure for pastors and assistant pastors is somewhere between three to seven years. There are many reasons why pastors and assistants move on. We cringe to hear of the bad reasons, but sometimes ministry transitions are good for all parties involved.
There are times when an assistant is sent out from a church to go plant a new church, or heal a hurting church. Sometimes God calls a man to a place for a definite time, and when that time is over, God moves him to a new place. These are good transitions, but they still require much grace. As a young preacher who is still right in the middle of it, I would like to share some practical advice about making a ministry transition with grace!
Recently my family moved from a church where we spent almost seven years as the youth and assistant pastor. We landed in Adelanto, California, as the pastor of Desert Streams Baptist Church. This transition has been challenging, trying, tear-jerking, and unbelievably rewarding. Both churches have benefited from this move, and I believe one of the reasons God has blessed us is because there were some very important decisions made at the forefront of this transition.
1. Discern that the Move Is God’s Will
For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.—James 4:15
This may seem obvious, but don’t make a major life move without knowing that it is God’s will. Don’t take a shot in the dark. I have witnessed too many horror stories of friends and peers that made a transition in ministry without being certain of God’s will.
There will come times before, during, and after the transition that the devil will try to cause you to doubt if this transition is right for your family, and you will want to be able to point back to a specific time that God showed you it was His perfect will. When it comes to making a major ministry move, if you have any doubt, don’t!
2. Diligently Seek Godly Counsel
For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: And in multitude of counsellors there is safety.—Proverbs 24:6
As soon as I knew that God wanted me to transition into the pastorate, I sought godly counsel. I met with my pastor and asked him for his counsel, his prayers, and his help. Almost every week, I spent hours on the phone with men that are older than I am, have been in ministry a lot longer than I have, and that had gone through a transition before.
When you ask for counsel, it is wise to talk with those who are not necessarily going to give you the answer you are looking for. If you are about to make a major life change, you need to hear the truth. You need to hear how hard it will be, and you need to hear about the trials of those who have done it before. Don’t walk into the battle with blinders on. You won’t be able to envision every problem that will come your way, but wise counsel will help take the blinders off.
3. Determine to Include Your Family
Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.—Romans 15:5–6
Men, our wives are crucial to our ministry! From the onset of our move I began praying that God would speak to my wife’s heart. I am thankful for several confirmations from her that God was working on her heart, and that she had surrendered to His will.
If God is moving you, He is also moving your family. Include them! Don’t drag them across the country with their heels dug into the ground behind the moving truck. Go hand in hand. If your wife is not on board with this transition, it is going to be miserable! I am thankful that my wife got it settled that God wants us in Adelanto; without her support I’m a sinking ship!
4. Decide to Be Transparent
Leaving a ministry where you have spent a considerable amount of time is very difficult. I know how hard it is to lose a pastor or youth pastor, and I left a thriving church and youth group to come to a hurting church. I know the feelings of being on either side. In many cases these transitions can breed bitterness, and that’s why it is crucial to be transparent and open with those you are leaving. Let them ask questions. Cry with them, visit them, spend time with them, and pray for them. Ministry transitions are notorious for burning bridges and burying relationships. I don’t want that! I want to be able to continue to minister to those we have left.
We made these decisions several months ago, and we have been blessed to see how God has used these few decisions to pay dividends in our new ministry. Times of transition can be some of the most difficult trials we have to experience, but if we determine to do it right, it can be one of the most rewarding blessings of our lives.