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Hitting the Mark and Scratching Where it Hurts!
Transitions in church leadership can be difficult. Here are the inspiring and encouraging outcomes of leadership transitions in three church settings.


Over the course of the last couple of months I have had the privilege of presenting the concept of transforming traditional interim pastors into intentional transitional leaders. At each venue the participants have responded with that sound people make when the light goes on or when the penny drops.

May your heart be glad as you read these stories …

It is usually an "ah-ha" moment that indicates we are hitting the mark and scratching where it hurts. I am pleased to present in this article three different settings where a leadership transition has taken place in a congregation. I offer them to you for your inspiration and encouragement.
May your heart be glad as you read these stories knowing that the Lord Jesus Christ is seriously devoted to His Church as He uses you to work out her spots and wrinkles.

The first story is written by a new friend of mine who has transitioned out of his congregation with the goal of becoming a coaching resource to congregations in transition. Cam Taylor writes with transparency about his exit and what impact that had on his congregation and on his personal journey with the Lord. He writes, "I'm glad I listened to the Lord and didn't allow the strength of perseverance to become the weakness of stubborn refusal."

The second story highlights the requirements of a transitional leader who is serving in a denomination that is not his home base. It is right to think through what to keep quiet about, what to focus on and what attitude to maintain while serving in a crossover setting Dwight Brown writes, "Whenever I have been interviewed for the role of an interim pastor, I have made it clear that I would come as a servant leader who is prepared to provide ministry and help wherever it is needed, and that I carry with me no personal agenda." Dwight has contributed to the success of at least three congregations in which he crossed over from his preferred denominational flavour to serve as a interim pastor.

The last story is the other side of the coin that is so often not told. This successful leadership transition story of an historic Vancouver church is presented here to demonstrate that not all leadership transitions have negative outcomes. W. Ward Gasque tells us that "As one who has been in full-time ministry for 36 years, I must confess that this past year has been one of the most fulfilling of my life." Read on to find out why he has such a positive attitude in this transitional setting.

Prepare your congregation for change

"Transitioning out—preparing myself and the congregation for my exit."

For some, the news came out of nowhere. For others, they saw it coming. For me, the news came as a relief and as a result of a long and sometimes painful process of self-discovery and soul searching. I'm speaking of the news to leave my church after 17 years of pastoral ministry.

Cam Taylor

Leaving was hard. But what would have been worse was stubbornly staying at the church for the wrong reasons. I'm glad I listened to the Lord and didn't allow the strength of perseverance to become the weakness of stubborn refusal.

My leaving started with believing. Believing God was calling me to leave. Believing God would look after those I would leave behind. Believing the one-and-a-half year process of struggling to discern God's will was finally coming to an end and it was time to move on. Believing God would make the next assignment clear after I left my current assignment.

Flowing out of believing came the actual leaving. The thought of leaving was quite different from the act of leaving. Leaving was final. Leaving hurt people. Leaving created instability. Leaving meant change. Leaving meant letting go of what I knew, to embrace what was coming. Leaving however, resulted in new-found freedom to go deeper in faith and explore new possibilities that staying would never have provided.

The toughest part of leaving was having to go through grieving. Believing was huge in importance, but grieving was an equal partner in significance. Grieving became my friend and a friend to the church as it went through transition. I agree with Shakespeare who said, "He that lacks time to mourn, lacks time to mend."

Grieving was like an obstacle course that we passed through before receiving the fruit of acceptance. I learned to talk openly about the grieving process and encouraged the church family to meet anger, blame, denial, isolation, bargaining, and depression with courage, openness, and honesty so that acceptance would come. As I grieved I let the tears flow. When I was depressed I went back to the trigger thought and worked it through. I met with friends to talk and pray. I wrote in my journal. I went for long walks until God's peace came. I met with the people and let them talk, remember, and tell their story.

Another part of our transition was the receiving of outside help. Even before I announced I was leaving, I helped the church connect with people who would help them through this transition. Losing a pastor was new to many of them as were the steps required to prepare for the continuation of the church under a new pastor. For some in leadership and for many people in the church, I was the only pastor they had known. Under those circumstances, receiving help was critical. I learned to back off my involvement and allow others to step up and provide the leadership required to navigate these turbulent waters.

The reality for the church as it prepared for my leaving was that the transition was more difficult for them than I thought it would ever be. Not everyone took my leaving well. Some left before I did. Some who stayed developed a "wait and see" attitude about the future instead of a "whatever it takes" attitude.

What has kept me grounded and moving forward has been the choice to keep believing that God is at work and will continue to be at work regardless of the outcome of this transition. The farewell event was a true celebration of God's work and our ministry among and alongside these people. In my last message to the church community, I reminded the church family that even though this leg of the race is over, we still have a race to finish. My words to them as we both continue to run the race, was that I looked forward to "seeing them at the finish line." Now that ultimate and final transition is the best news ever!

Cam Taylor leads the Pastors Network for Free Methodist Churches in BC. He can be reached at camross@telus.net.

Cross denominational ministry success

Over the past eight years, I have been doing something I would never have dreamed possible. I have been providing interim pastoral ministry for a number of different church denominations in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and B.C. How this came about is another story.

I have consciously kept quiet on matters of doctrine that I know would clash with those in the local church I served.

More than once, friends have asked me how this was possible. What about your personal position on certain doctrinal matters? How did people receive you knowing that you hold to beliefs that are obviously different from theirs?

Let me share what I see as keys to making this shift successful and welcomed.

Perhaps the most deliberate effort has been made with respect to doctrinal positions. I have consciously kept quiet on matters of doctrine that I know would clash with those in the local church I served. During the brief interim period, I have found ample common ground in the Scriptures to preach and teach that I have been led by the Lord to share with the congregation. I have, however, reserved the privilege of sharing my personal perspectives on biblical truth in private with anyone who comes to me with questions. The subject is never initiated by me, but if my view on an issue is requested, I feel comfortable in sharing from my perspective.

Every church that I have served as an interim pastor, regardless of denomination label, has indicated a hunger for the Word of God. I have found that clear preaching of the Scriptures, without applying man-formulated doctrines, has been warmly welcomed by all. I have purposely worked at making the Scriptures understandable, interesting, and relevant for each local church. Never once has it been pointed out to me that I presented something that conflicted with the denomination's theology.

Whenever I have been interviewed for the role of an interim pastor, I have made it clear that I would come as a servant leader who is prepared to provide ministry and help wherever it is needed, and that I carry with me no personal agenda. That is, I am not there to effect change in how church is done, but rather, I come to minister healing where it is wanted, to love the people as I believe Jesus would, and to feed them the pure Word of God to the best of my ability.

If there is a personal goal on my part other than that, it is to create a better understanding of God and His purposes, a greater love for the Lord Jesus, and an increased appetite for the Word of God. Anything less than that would reduce me to a hired "church-sitter," and that does not interest me, nor do I believe that serves the purposes of God.

If the Apostle Paul could make adjustments in His preaching the Gospel (see 1 Corinthians 9:19-23) to win unbelievers, then I see it worthwhile the make the necessary adjustments to serve various streams of the Church as an interim while the search for a permanent pastor is underway.

Love for the family of God makes room for concessions that do not impact the eternal purposes of God for the Church. This ministry of consideration should prove threatening to no one. Also, I am of the opinion that it brings pleasure to our Lord Jesus.

As long as I am at liberty to preach the Word of God, I will serve as a transitional leader for any local church in any denomination that values the Scriptures and has a genuine heart for God.

Dwight Brown was the interim pastor at Kitimat First Baptist Church, 2005-2006. He can be reached at dnbrown@shaw.ca.

Transitional leadership in an historic Vancouver church

Granville Chapel was founded 55 years ago, and from its inception played a role as the most influential congregation among the Open (Christian) Brethren in Vancouver. Russell Hitt, the editor of Eternity magazine once referred to it as "the Vatican of the Plymouth Brethren"! It has also had a major influence in the development of various Christian parachurch organizations in the area, including Regent College.

Ward Gasque

Founded and led entirely by devout lay men and women without the assistance of paid staff, Granville had a thriving Sunday school and youth ministry from its inception as well as a vibrant worshipping congregation. Attendance over the years ranged between 200 and 300.

In the 1980s, the number of children attending Sunday school had declined. The congregation seemed to be primarily older adults plus a number of unmarried young adults. The elders began to be concerned with ways to reach out to the surrounding community. They re-examined the Brethren tradition of having different preachers every Sunday and slowly moved toward having one younger, gifted individual serving as the primary preacher. After a few years, it became obvious to all that the Lord had placed within the congregation a young man who had grown up in the church and who was clearly gifted as an evangelist and teacher.

Under the leadership of this gifted leader (who eventually assumed the non-Brethren title of 'pastor'), Granville doubled in size, filled up with young adults, both singles and marrieds. With the establishment of an ESL program and a lively Alpha program, conversions became more numerous. In due course, the staff was expanded to include pastors for youth, children, Asians, and an associate pastor who took charge of much of the administration.

During 2004, Granville's effective and much beloved pastor began to feel that he had served long enough in this congregation and needed to make a change. He shared this with his fellow elders mid-year and in September with the entire congregation. There was no crisis, no reason for anyone to feel that he should leave; it was simply that he felt the nudge of the Spirit to move on. So at the end of 2004, he left.

In view of his long and effective ministry (and his relative youth), the congregation was stunned by his decision to leave. Many of them had come to faith through his preaching, some quite recently. Some felt like spiritual orphans.

The elders (only three at the time, down from 20+ in the early '80s) decided to be pro-active. First, they appointed an experienced and gifted member of the congregation, Myrne Goulding, who was seconded from her ministry with Youth For Christ to serve as part-time staff coordinator, to supervise, support, and coach the staff (mostly young and fairly inexperienced). This proved to be a very shrewd appointment. In contrast to a pattern of personnel crises in the recent past, Myrne melded the staff into a unified, caring, and increasingly competent team.

A second step taken by the elders was to expand the leadership base. This led to the establishment of a Transitional Leadership Team (TLT), which included the three elders plus nine others (mainly deacons). Those serving on the TLT committed themselves to meet twice monthly for the duration of the transitional period. Later in the process it was decided that the TLT would be a good model for the future, so as of the AGM 2006 (April), it will be simply the Leadership Team.

Early on, the TLT identified a second group of lay leaders who were asked to join a Church Review Team (CRT) to review and revise Granville's vision, values, and direction. The third step taken was to identify a consultant to guide the review and strategic planning process. Brent Dolfo agreed to serve in this role. He began with 60 hour-long interviews of representative leaders and grassroots members of the congregation and then led the bi-monthly church review team meetings. In addition, Outreach Canada's Ministry Fitness Check and demographic survey were administered to the congregation in an attempt to gain a clear picture of the present state of the congregation — its strengths, weaknesses, and perceptions of ministry.

All of this took place immediately following the pastor's leaving. Very quickly the TLT decided they needed to find an interim pastor. Toward the end of March they decided on me, someone who has never been a pastor in a traditional sense (though I have served as an elder and have sought to pastor my students as a theological educator). My role was to be that of executive pastor, to make sure the administration runs smoothly, to take care of the pastoral needs of the congregation, and to coordinate the preaching (by guests and members of the congregation).

Granville has a tradition of carefully planned preaching coordinated with well-organized home groups in which approximately half of the congregation is involved. Excellent study manuals are prepared in tandem with the texts to be expounded from the pulpit. During the interim period, Granville has had superb preaching, drawing from the resources of Vancouver area educational institutions, senior clergy from other congregations, and the richness of its own resources. Several business leaders from within the congregation preached sermons that were as good as any I have ever heard (and in one case this was a first!), and in the process it became quickly evident that we had a potential candidate for a lead pastor.

Following a six month review process and a subsequent six month global search (in which 55 applicants were carefully considered), the search team came in with only one recommended candidate, Andy Perrett, someone who was not only a member of the congregation but had been a member of the TLT. The support of the recommendation of the search committee was endorsed unanimously by the TLT and acclaimed by the congregation without dissent. Andy is a graduate of Oxford University and Regent College and has served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship of Canada for some years, most recently as west coast director.

As one who has been in full-time ministry for 36 years, I must confess that this past year has been one of the most fulfilling of my life. And as an educator and student of contemporary church life, I have never seen a pastoral change and church review process that has been done so well. I am sure that, humanly speaking, it is the careful and creative planning of the original elders, who knew that a new situation needed new structures and new leaders that made the difference.

W. Ward Gasque is Interim Pastor Granville Chapel, Vancouver, BC., president of Pacific Association, Seattle WA USA, adjunct professor at Bakke Graduate University, Fuller Theological Seminary, Schloss Mittersill Study Centre, and Seattle Pacific University.

Alan Simpson is the director of Outreach Canada. He can be reached at asimpson@outreach.ca. TEL: 604-952-0050 ext 305.

Originally published in Transitions, a publication of Outreach Canada's Transitional Leadership Ministry, April 2006.

 

 
 
 
 

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