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Surviving Transition from the Second Chair: 10 Tips for Associates During a Change of Senior Pastors
By Peter Farkas
While I was serving as an associate pastor at a church of 150 people in 2005, the senior pastor and church founder announced he was leaving immediately. Through three years of transition with an interim pastor and sometimes no pastor (I got the call several Sunday mornings that the interim pastor was not coming and I needed to present the message) the Lord showed me how to survive the transition. Despite the trials, I am still serving that same church. The congregation is growing again with the guidance of a loving and caring new senior pastor.
It has been said that learning from others’ mistakes is cheaper and easier than making them yourself. With that in mind, I’ve assembled 10 tips to help others successfully navigate church leadership transitions.
1. Do Not Take Sides or Talk about Past or Present Leaders
As an associate pastor, you may see and hear things others won’t. Stay impartial, and keep any opinions to yourself. Your personal view can color others’ perceptions and make the change more difficult for everyone.
2. Support the One in Charge
Even if you have your differences, honor the person God places in authority. Be supportive in word, action, and attitude.
3. Do Not Listen to Gossip
People gravitate toward leaders to share their stories and air their grievances. Be discerning, and don’t believe everything you hear. Refuse to engage in gossip of any kind.
4. Do Not Take Offense
In the midst of upheaval, you may feel overlooked or unfairly treated. Don’t let bitterness take root. God is still in charge. Do the work He has given you, and trust Him with the details.
Seek God daily for guidance, wisdom, and peace. Christ’s presence is vital to your life and ministry.
6. Encourage Others
During a time of transition, especially one that drags on, discouragement can set in. Keep others in the church focused on God. Remind them that He is working in the situation to accomplish His wonderful plan.
7. Stay Positive
You cannot encourage others if you are discouraged. Find reasons to praise the Lord, and He will develop His character in you through every trial.
8. Be Flexible
Transition requires change. It forces you out of the routine and makes you reevaluate the way you work. That can bring about positive adjustments. Be willing to change. The usual way of doing things isn’t the only way. And it may not be the best way.
9. Be Prepared
Brace yourself for new experiences. Be willing to do whatever needs to be done, whenever it needs to be done, even if it isn’t your job.
10. Find a Confidant
This is the area where I missed it. Many times I just needed to talk. I would have benefited from seeking out a confidant — someone outside the situation who could listen without bias or judgment. Find someone you can trust with your thoughts and feelings.
While transition is never easy it can be a time to serve God in a special way. Remember that many of the people in your church look to you for guidance and direction. Use this opportunity to display God’s character and faithfulness to the congregation and the community. Remember Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction.”