Surviving Transitions in Rural Ministry…

In September of 2013, I found myself in a place that I had never been in my almost 14 years of changeministry. I was serving in a church with no Senior Pastor. The churches where I have served always had established Senior Pastors that came several years before me. In a Sunday, that all changed. The Pastor that had served for 16 years resigned. He left the very same Sunday. The congregation was left with a lot of questions. Some of the staff and leadership had a few answers. But regardless of the specific scenario, here are a few things that I can say that I have learned in this process:

1) Remember why you are there. On the day I was told about the resignation (only about 48 hours before the rest of the church), The leadership team made it clear to me that they are already working a plan that helps keep my focus on the ministry that I was called to that church for. They did not expect me to “pick up the slack” in the office. That was a great comfort in coming months.

2) Remember who you are. Regardless of the transition, there is always some uncertainty. The fact that someone has left does not change the ministry that you have in your church. If you are a youth worker, you are still a youth worker. Even if you are in a church tradition that “cleans house” when the lead pastor leaves, you are still a youthworker by calling, even if you are not vocationally or volunteering at a church. Lean on God to place you where He wants you to serve.

3) Trim “the grapevine”. During times of transitions, people talk. They may or may not have all the information that they think they have. This is a vital time to team with the church leadership to help insure that the information coming out is accurate and complete, to prevent misunderstandings. This does not mean that you “air the dirty laundry”, but disclose the facts that are needed, and leave it there. If someone chooses to perpetuate false or incomplete information, be clear with them that it can lead to church discipline (Matthew 18). Encourage them to stop talking and start praying.

4) Look to the future. It really comes down to a decision on your part. The daily choice to face the future with fear, or the expectation that God is going to do great things. I had the opportunity to state this truth from the pulpit very early on. I can see that it helped people ground themselves in the fact that they are to look to God in this uncertain period of time. Yes, it can be scary, but we need to keep in front of us that God is also using this time to shape the staff and the congregation to be more like Him.

Transitions are difficult, especially in small towns that have an active “grapevine” and everyone knows everyone else’s business (or think they do…). Let God use this time to grow you and your church.

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