How to Effectively Orchestrate a Pastoral Transition



I have this dream of serving a group of saints in a congregation, retiring there, celebrating with them at a big, tearful farewell party and then sticking around to help mentor the young, talented, man of God who follows me. It is a great dream, a well-intentioned dream. There is only one problem, sin gets in the way. It is vital to understand that this dream of making a good transition from being the current pastor to a retired one, breaks down because sin interferes in two critical ways: through pride and legacy.


The writer of Proverbs shares these words of wisdom for us, “The empty-headed cause conflict out of pride; those who take advice are wise.” The reason pride gets in the way of a smooth transition is obvious in this illustration. As a retiring pastor, I have by the grace of God figured out just how to lead this group of saints. We have had many holy and some unholy battles over the years, but through it all, we have developed a routine, a rhythm that works well. Our relationship has stood the test of time and we know what we have developed works.

At this point in our history, no one is challenging the wisdom of what we have developed, no one has tried to change it until this new young, talented man of God comes along. Now he has all kinds of new-fangled ideas. He bounces in with his new gadgets and begins asking uncomfortable questions that undermine all the things the previous pastor has battled to put into place. “Hey, maybe we should try this?  Or have you thought about why you do things that way instead of like this?” Doesn’t he realize the former pastor is feeling threatened by all this change?

Pride has now messed up my dream of being a blessing, now I am in danger of becoming a burden. How I handle this perceived threat will determine which of those two paths I travel down. If I as a former shepherd entertain all the members who come to me with complaints and give those complaints a fertile ground to grow and flourish, I am becoming a burden and sin has a foothold. On the other hand, if I support this young, talented man of God and speak well of him, support him, then I can be a blessing to help make his difficult transition smoother.


We all have a need to be loved, respected and remembered. Now that we are no longer “the guy” we miss those words of affirmation, the interactions, the energy we got from our members. It is hard to sit back and watch these accolades being showered on a younger man of God, talented in different areas. The key question for the retiring pastor and congregation to find a solution to is: “How do the pastor and congregation replace what gifts and abilities the retiring pastor provided in such a way that it does not stunt the growth and development of the new shepherd?” It will require the ability to have honest conversations and willingness for the former pastor to move on if necessary. I know the retiring pastor wants to help, wants to be a blessing, wants to maintain the long relationships that have been forged over time, but staying could prevent the new shepherd from forming some of those same relationships the retiring pastor has grown to love and cherish.

This post is not designed to create hurt or push out a former pastor, but to bring awareness to the growing concern I see in congregations. Think of the situation this way. When you buy a house you don’t keep pictures up of the previous family that lived there. You don’t keep their traditions, celebrate their family’s birthdays, or even their choice of color patterns. You want to put your own unique touches on the house, make new family traditions and memories. When the house reaches the end of its life cycle it can tell a story of not just your family’s small moment in time there, but instead, paint a rich mosaic of several generations of families and celebrate a variety of traditions, births, deaths, disappointments, and mistakes, but ultimately point to the love that flowed through its walls. Should we expect any less from the Houses that God build? Shouldn’t they also reflect the many different traditions, shepherds, and congregants who had to figure out the ministry for that time and community, in order to uniquely proclaim God’s love to groups still outside of God’s grace? We are not building a legacy for ourselves, but a house for generations to come.

21 Comments on “How to Effectively Orchestrate a Pastoral Transition

  1. tough subject but you said a lot in a small post. Well done and I appreciate your perspective as one who is on the opposite end of that exchange currently.


    • Thank you. It is something I see a lot of on the pastoral side of things. Many pastor’s don’t see that they can be a hinderance. It was my attempt to provide them with insight.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve seen it happen too, but only as a servant in the congregation, not as a participant. It’s difficult to see the forest through the trees when there is so much emotional coinage involved. We forget that we are another cog in a wheel that spins beyond our lifetime. We want to be the one who lays the rock-solid foundation. I know I feel that way as the incoming guy so it’s important that I maintain a careful eye on the other side of things or I could become insensitive and create problems.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed this read and have seen pastors make the transition well because they followed some of the same principles you mention here. When our time of leadership is on the wane in one role, we can begin to use those talents in other ways that still help the larger body of Christ. It’s very important to allow the youngers to learn and grow, just as we have done. Glad you’re writing!


  3. Pingback: Keys Steps In Conducting a Pastoral Search | The Light Breaks Through

  4. Change is hard, but frankly as you age there are changes in ministry. My husband and I have been at the same church for several years… 30! We didn’t plan it this way, but we are still working where we were planted. You don’t look on the outward appearance. God looks on the heart, and on the heart of the church. We have grown more than the church has. People, places, and things make us grow.


    • God bless your work there. I never had that kind of staying power. Or maybe I should say God keep opening different doors. I always planned to retire there but it never worked out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Each of us has a different calling. The steps of the righteous man/woman are ordered by the LORD. I have thought many times on this verse. When it was time to go in one place, I prayed that we would go. It might not have been the right prayer, but in time, God moved us. We have been here 30 years. It hasn’t been easy, and there were many times when we could have left. God seemed to say many times the passage about making us into an instrument with teeth. It is in Isaiah maybe.


      • I am also the daughter of a pastor. He is in Heaven, but being a preacher’s kid gave me first hand knowledge about being in ministry. Dad studied, and stayed in his office until he had his sermon. Many times he had it before Friday.


  5. Pingback: I Am Taking My Gifts To…? – The Light Breaks Through

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