8 Tips for a Smooth Pastoral Transition

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by Samantha T.

I will never forget the day my first youth pastor announced he was leaving. There were tears, prayer circles, worries, fears, and heartbreak throughout the church. I already made up my mind that whoever replaced him with would never be as cool. When the new guy arrived, I had already decided he was the biggest dork ever, and I didn’t want a relationship with him. Now I laugh at that thought because twelve years later, as I flip through my wedding album, that dork of a youth minister is pictured standing before my husband and I carrying out the ceremony. That dorky guy who took my old youth pastor’s spot soon became my hero, my mentor, my friend, and the reason why I am a youth pastor today.

I wish all transitions worked out that well. During my first two years as a youth pastor, I was completely blessed by having a very intentional pastor to guide and mentor me. She gave me advice but rarely came down with a “must-do list.” She was not just my mentor and boss, but she was my pastor. Her love for my family went above and beyond pastoral duties. She was a true minister of God’s love reflecting Christ in her thoughtfulness. Once again, after building a close relationship with a pastor, she was assigned to a different church. This time, I tried to be more mature by not making negative presumptions about the replacement pastor. Perhaps the new pastor would be an even bigger blessing in my life and for this church. I knew I needed to give him a chance, especially after how much God taught me from my previous youth pastor transition.

The first time I met the new pastor, I greeted him with an open mind. I tried to trust that God had a plan. And then he walked into the youth room completely wide-eyed with fear. I tried to be polite making every effort to make him feel comfortable. He obviously was completely out of his comfort zone at our church and especially in the youth area. I was looking forward to building a relationship with him, but that never came as natural as it did with the last pastor. As a matter of fact, just talking to him would prove to be a challenge for the next few years. Within just five minutes of meeting him, I decided the Bishop’s goal in selecting a new pastor for this church was to find someone with the polar opposite personality of our previous pastor.

The next few years in my youth ministry career were the biggest challenge yet. I have never really connected with my new pastor on a personal or professional level. Every relationship takes the effort of both sides and I can honestly say that I have failed majorly in helping establish a better relationship with my new pastor. If I could go back, I would tell myself not to have any expectations. I would encourage myself to focus on ministering to the pastor and not expect to be ministered to by the pastor. Perhaps this would have saved years of frustration, or maybe this wouldn’t have changed anything. However, since I can’t go back, I hope to make good on my shortcomings by encouraging others experiencing a pastoral transition.

Here are a few suggestions for a smooth transition:

  1. Lead him humbly. Even though he may have more pastoral experience and education than you do, you have been at the church longer than he has giving you deeper insight to the true needs of your church. Help him see the church the way you have seen it. Teach him what you know and connect him with who you know.
  2. Encourage the heck out your pastor. Tell her constantly what she does well even if that is hard to figure out. Be specific on what those things are. This will help build a caring relationship by showing that you do appreciate her, even if you often disagree.
  3. Minister to him. Check in with his personal life and offer to pray with him. Seek ways to bless him and his family.
  4. Get to know her story and her family. Go out for lunch often and just get to know her as a person. This way when she does something that makes you mad, you are reminded she is just a human being trying to do a very hard job the best she can.
  5. Be upfront and specific about your hopes around his involvement with the youth program.
  6. Connect her with the youth to help her understand they are not THAT scary. Also, invite her to share her testimony during youth group to help establish relationships with the youth.
  7. Let him know you need him. Tell him you need to be mentored and you need guidance. Be open and vulnerable about your own story and your role as the youth minister.
  8. PRAY for her daily. No matter how much you like or dislike your new pastor, pray for strength and humility because it is the hardest job in the church.

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