That Time (Long Ago) When My Pastor Left

Important disclaimer: This is not at all relating to my current situation. I have a great pastor who is not going anywhere. Let me just make that clear before rumors start flying.

I have had a couple friends in kidmin world recently ask how they can lead well during the time of a pastoral transition. It is a challenging spot to be in because of the high emotion and unsure circumstances. Let me begin by being flat out honest. It is a season of ministry that flat out stinks. I know that is not encouraging, but it is true.

My first experience with this came when the pastor I had worked with for ten years left. Granted, he left a couple of months before I moved to Florida (unrelated decisions) but it was still so hard to say goodbye and to watch the church transition. The second time was in 2014 when my sweet pastor friend who brought me to West Bradenton was called to another church. So while I’m thankful it is not a situation we are working through now, I can identify with those in kidmin world who are.

  1. Deal with your own emotions. Before you are a leader, you are a real person. You are going to be sad. You will very likely be angry. You may feel blindsided. All of those feelings are completely normal. You need to feel all of those emotions and work through them on your own. Ignoring them doesn’t help you lead. You can not help people move forward if you haven’t dealt with your own hurt.
  2. Be a safe place for people to share their emotions, but point them towards Jesus. All of your people are going to have words, opinions, and emotions. Listen to them. Even when you are tired of talking about it. Listen patiently, correct misinformation or assumptions, and always, always, always point people towards Jesus. No pastor is our hero. Jesus is the hero. No pastor is the true head of the church. Jesus is the head of the church.
  3. Remember that the sky is not falling. Man, there are days that it will feel like it is. It will feel that is the worst thing that could ever happen to your church and maybe even to you. But I promise it is not. It is so not. God is bigger than this. God loves your church and your congregation even more than you do. If He had other plans for your pastor, He has other plans for your church. Yes, it might be really hard and people are going to do weird things and the future may seem really confusing, but God is bigger.
  4. What gaps can you fill? Sometimes those of us in children’s ministry feel that our role is pretty insignificant in the big picture life of the church. Sometimes seeing ourselves that way traps us there. If God has called you to be a leader in this church, there are ways that you can step up during the transition period. Are there any holes left by your pastor’s departure that you can help fill? Hospital visits? Counseling? Meeting planning? Be proactive and help the leadership of your church fill the gaps.
  5. Help lead the church forward as you can. Support the pastor search team. Be a cheerleader for your staff. Create fun and positive experiences for families. Continue to provide incredible ministry to the children in your care. Love your community. Serving Jesus doesn’t go on pause when there is a pastoral change.
  6. Don’t jump ship unless God has made it abundantly clear that it is time. Being uncomfortable doesn’t mean God’s calling you elsewhere. Being temporarily unhappy or stressed does not mean your time is done. Yes, other environments that are more stable than yours will be inviting. Greeting at Wal-Mart may seem more inviting, but Jesus said in John 10:12-13, “The hired hand, since he is not the shepherd and doesn’t own the sheep, leaves them and runs away when he sees a wolf coming. The wolf then snatches and scatters them. This happens because he is a hired hand and doesn’t care about the sheep.” Allow me to challenge you to not just be a hired hand who runs away when the yuck hits. Be the shepherd who loves people and sticks with them and loves the church more than your own comfort.

If you’ve been through a pastoral transition, what would you add?

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