Pastoral transitions are a precarious thing especially at the end of a career when pastors often don't want to let go and boards or congregations wish they would. And, nobody wants to talk about the elephant in the room so the issue simmers under the surface often causing conflict in subtle ways.
It is unfortunate and often hurts the congregation who may start to feel that the church is adrift losing its way and it seems that leaders do not have the courage to figure out a plan. These issues in themselves often cause other tensions to come to the surface that never would have caused problems if the underlying issue had been addressed.
Here are some observations.
First, there is a time to for everyone to leave a leadership position. That does not mean that ministry is over but leadership is a tough job and age does take its toll. Leadership in the church is one of the toughest leadership roles coupled with preaching regularly and all the issues churches face. When we start to lose our energy, enthusiasm or edge it is time to step aside from leading - perhaps into a less demanding position.
Two, most of us are not fully aware that it may be time. This is why discussions with our church board (or ministry board) is so important. It seems to me that this ought to be a conversation each year when we move into our sixties to ensure that we are receiving the feedback that we need. We may not like the feedback but it is better than being surprised at some point.
Third, if pastors don't raise the issues it is incumbent on the board to do so. Once we hit our sixties it is foolish to pretend that transition is not coming. The question is whether it will be a healthy one or not. This is not putting an age on when the transition should come but it is recognizing that it is coming and we need a plan. I have seen some great examples of a planned transition because pastors and boards worked together to make it healthy. All too often that is not the case.
Fourth, planned transitions allow the one leaving to be honored and the church to move through an emotionally hard time in a healthy manner. Conflictual transitions do not. Conflictual transitions are often the result of pastors not willing to let go and the board having to force the issue leaving both parties with a bitter taste. Sometimes this is because the two parties have not been talking candidly and sometimes because pastors are not listening. When leaders are hired they and the hiring party negotiate what is needed for the relationship to work. The same should be true in leaving. There needs to be give and take but most of all there must be a plan and a strategy.
I fully realize that boards are often very poor at handling transitions with their pastors but it cuts both ways. Often pastors don't want to leave even in the face of boards trying to get their attention. Both parties need to be able to talk like adults and come to a plan that protects the church and honors all parties involved.
It is the avoidance of these conversations that creates unhealthy transitions. All of us leave sometime. The question is whether we leave well or not. It is sad to see pastors or leaders leave poorly as that becomes part of their legacy. Healthy leadership includes a healthy leaving. Starting well, leading well and leaving well are all part of the healthy leadership package.
Posted from Santiago, Chile
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