You are Transitional
By Ed Compean
A church planter can be overwhelmed with developing a core team, meeting with people and raising volunteers. These immediate based commitments, and numerous others, can make it difficult for a church planting pastor to even consider who will follow him in the pastorate.
My experience until now has been planting churches and helping others plant churches. While the progress sometimes felt glacial, the focus had been to establish, raise up and turn over. In a series of events which can only be described as God’s sovereignty, things have changed. As of six weeks ago, I am the new pastor of a well functioning, almost 25-year-old church full of wonderful people and rich history. It is from this experience I hope to make three points for the planter to consider for the benefit of the church and the next pastor.
You Are Transitional
A few days into my new pastorate, a man wept deeply in my living room, not in a counseling session or in a time of confession. Instead, he was deeply moved to sobbing tears because the Lord had brought a new pastor to his church. His joy was not for me specifically, it was joy for God’s faithfulness to bring an under-shepherd for the church he loved.
Church Planters would do well to encourage the people of the church to care for the church with a view touching eternity. Bill Holdridge with Poimen Ministries was instrumental in the pastor search and in my transition into the new church. He explained the importance of the long-term view by telling me, “We are all transitional pastors, there will be another.”
Church planters will do well to encourage people to love the Head of the church, honor His bride and appropriately respect the office of pastor. Of course there will be a generation in which there is no transition, but until Jesus returns, one day we will all be replaced. It is best to pray and plan from the beginning.
You need to Communicate
The previous pastor had done an excellent job of preparing the church for transition. He had similarly done an excellent job in helping me understand how the church was functioning and how the small staff was operating. The assistant pastor was completely supportive and provided a great sense of continuity. We all knew sheep could be restless in the transition, so effort was made to communicate as much as possible.
Before final decisions were made my wife and I met and broke bread with the elders for a time of testimony and dialogue. Similarly, the outgoing pastor arranged for time with key staff members where many questions were asked of all. All the church volunteers were invited to a luncheon where we again gave our testimonies and answered questions.
To keep the church updated, the elders asked me to preach and after each service opened the church up to questions for my wife and I. While the final decision was made by the elders, it was an opportunity to communicate to the body. It allowed inquiring, involvement and investment by the body as well as to the body. In the weeks since becoming the lead pastor, several people have mentioned how they felt they understood the process and appreciated not being left out.
It Is Not About You
The verses the Lord gave me for the transition is Psalm 23:1-2.
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
Though my wife and I are making another radical change in our lives, these well known words are not for us. They are for the Lord’s sheep in His pasture.
There was strong agreement that the former pastor and his family were called to a new work, but there is also strong grieving as a dear part of this community of believers is missed.
Even if his leaving had been from disqualification or division, as the new pastor I would want to honor and help the grieving of the sheep. They hurt, and that is okay. Grieving is good and honoring of the relationship. The better the grieving, the sooner the sheep are lying down in the Lord’s pastures and drinking of His waters. Their missing of the former pastor has nothing to do with how they view me as the new pastor. It has everything to do with missing a friend. You want to minister to and with people who feel the depth of relationships.
Pray and Prepare
Praying for and preparing the church for the eventual transition to the next pastor should be on the minds of all church planters. Some will transition soon, like the apostle Paul, others after many decades, like Pastor Chuck Smith. In either case, until Jesus returns, we are all transitional and should pray and prepare for the inevitable.
Finally, let me take a moment more to make another callout to Poimen and Bill Holdridge. They are a great wealth of information for the times a church planter moves on to do what church planters do.
Ed Compean is a former church planter in Kenya and the current lead pastor at Shoreline Calvary in Morro Bay, CA.