[Blog] It's the Transition That's Troublesome

blog Jul 22, 2022


by EXPAND Consultants

“Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful,” wrote the novelist Isaac Asimov. “It’s the transition that’s troublesome.” The same might be said of succession planning. There are only two ways to avoid trouble: be in denial, or be finished with the task. If you’re not in one of those places, you’re trying to figure out the next step. It is overwhelming, especially if the task is urgent. We urge you to not make haste, but to make adequate preparation.

Things don’t go wrong; they start wrong. You don’t get a second chance to do this right. Engaging an expert can bring clarity and guidance. A guide understands emotional challenges that you don’t see coming. They help ensure that what you’ve done—what you’ve started—doesn’t fall apart through your transition. An EXPAND consultant will help your legacy be honored.

In the Bible, there seems to be a succession issue in the third handoff. For example,
Moses to Joshua to no one
Elijah to Elisha to no one
David to Solomon to no one
Paul to Timothy to no one

There was a time that many Lead Pastors were considered pioneers, and now they fight for relevancy. We have seen Pastors build a church in numbers and witness higher than normal attrition because they overstayed. We have also seen leaders transition early but do so without counsel and long-term thinking. At EXPAND, our motivation is that every pastoral transition will be honorable, assuring ongoing growth and glorifying the founder of our church, Jesus.

Some thought processes that an outgoing Pastor is contemplating have to do with their core identity, defining decisions, next chapters and conflicting feelings. Pastoral transitions are much more than positional relocations; they are about a person’s core identity. The outgoing Pastor has served in that capacity with the same congregation for an extended period of time and cannot help but identify with the people he or she is serving. But it goes deeper than that. A core identity is about who a person is. What they do emanates from who they are. And they serve because of a divine calling on their life. It’s a life full of purpose, mission and impact. Shifting from this pastoral role is also shifting from their core identity, which is deep within a person’s soul.

Most people have four to five “defining decisions” in their lives, and this is definitely one of them. Think of your life, and you will notice your defining decisions, such as when you went to college, when you got married, when your first child was born, when you accepted your first pastorate, when your Pastor requested you consider serving on the Board of the church and when you left another church. Even your role in this pastoral succession and transition are defining decisions for you and consequential for others.

Leadership transitions are about two contradictory thoughts simultaneously: opportunity and trauma. As the outgoing Lead Pastor, you might be excited about the new grace on your life highlighting fresh opportunities to serve in the kingdom, and you might be wishing that you could do both at the same time. But you have concluded that you have to make some choices, take some chances and make some changes. That is traumatic. We have found that leaders who are self-aware of the emotional tension between looking forward to something and leaving behind something they love is real, needs processing and takes time to normalize.

A transition is not a new book in a person’s life; rather, it is the next chapter of that person’s life story still being written. If you are the outgoing Lead Pastor of the church, your next chapter is being written. If you are a Board member, your leadership is writing the church’s next chapter. The incoming Lead Pastor will be a new character in the narrative of the history of your church. The reason this is so important is that God was involved in writing your history. He is engaged in your present and will lead you in the next chapter of your church.

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