Transitioning New Pastors

United Methodism practices as “sent ministry.” Our pastors are sent (rather than called) to where they are most needed. We now ask every pastor and receiving congregation to submit a “First Ninety Days” plan. This year each full-time pastor who moved received a letter from me and the DS that stated specific goals and expectations in the first year. District Superintendent, Mike Stonbraker has taken the process another step further. I asked him to describe his creation of the Transitional Team.

The Cabinet and I are attempting to change from just “making appointments” to “making appointments work.” – Will Willimon

Transitioning New Pastors

Transitioning in to a new church appointment can be one of the most stressful events in the life of a pastor, his/her family, as well as the churches. Saying farewell to one family and entering a new church ministry packs a great deal of emotion and anticipation.

From the time appointments are announced until Moving Day, we must live through Annual Conference, sweltering heat, (not to mention one of those pop-up showers on moving day), trying to live out of boxes for the first few days, and our “first Sunday.” Pastors work to unpack their office, begin meeting the new folks, and help the spouse as much as possible. Staff and team meetings are planned, and we begin living out our First 90 Days plan. The new school term begins, football season kicks off, and districts schedule pastor consultations. Before you know it it’s time to start planning the Advent Season.

I have been working on a system with a fresh approach that would begin the transition process much earlier for the incoming pastor and church family. This past year I requested that four churches work with me by creating a Transitional Team to be in place by late March early April. This team would be hand selected by the outgoing pastor and the Chairperson’s of the Pastor Parish Relations and Administrative Board/Council. The team would be composed of a cross-sectional group from the church, to be composed of no more than twelve and no less than six people including the outgoing pastor, the incoming pastor and the two chairpersons.

First the team was asked to schedule a two hour meeting with me. Together we talked about the most pressing issues facing the church’s ministry. Worship, small groups, evangelism, and staff positions seemed to always be placed on the table. We focused on ways to improve these areas while keeping the church moving in a positive, healthy direction. No concern or issue was off limits. Second, we focused on making the transition out and the transition in, smooth and fluid. The team was asked to work closely with the Worship Team on the final Sunday for the outgoing pastor and the first Sunday for the incoming pastor. I asked that both events be prayerful and uplifting through celebration and hope for everyone concerned. I also asked that Moving Day preparations and assistance be made available for both pastors. Finally, scheduled meeting dates were made with the incoming pastor for April and May to assure he/she understood the pressing issues and expectations coming with this transition. But above all I asked that this Transition Team be “cheerleaders” for this time of change and challenge. Learn about the incoming pastor and their family. Spread hope and excitement for the years ahead while praising God for the ministry past. Bring unity and joy for everyone involved. Claim this appointment for what it really is, change and renewal.

I have requested that the Transition Team stay together for one year. They are to meet with me again in August to share updates on how well the team has worked through this transition and how the future year is beginning to unfold. So far the feedback has been very positive. Combining the First 90 Days and the Transitional Team ideas and plans have helped the early days of a new move to be a bit easier and smoother. Pastors are getting their “feet on the ground” much sooner and in the scheme of things understanding their new role and priorities.

This has really helped me as well. I’m learning much more about the individual churches and their desire to grow and make a difference within the community. Will this work? Is there going to be some tweaking? Only time will tell. However, I truly believe that getting more of the church family involved in the positive transition in and transition out is crucial for every church setting.

Mike Stonbraker
Northwest District Superintendent

P.S. I recently noticed that two of our congregations, who have had a recent history of struggling financially and finding it difficult to shoulder their fair share of our connectoinal ministries budget, are now participating at 100%! Both of these congregations, Liberty Crossing and Highlands (Birmingham) received new, young pastors last June (Wade Griffith and Mikah Hudson, respectively) which makes this progress all the more remarkable. If you want to know how we’ve had the best year in four years in regard to connectional giving, this is the primary reason: committed, dedicated pastors who know that the purpose of the church and its ministry is focused outside of the congregation, partaking of Christ’s ministry in the world. Congratulations to all those congregations (more than half of all our churches) who participated at 100% or better! – WW

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