By Karl Vaters on May 5, 2017
Following a long-term, successful pastorate is one of the hardest callings in ministry. Every pastor should do everything we can to make it as easy as possible for the next pastor and the church to do great ministry after we leave.
Following a long-term, successful pastorate is one of the hardest callings in ministry.
It should be one of the easiest. After all, if we’re doing pastoral ministry right, we should set up the next pastor for an even greater level of ministry success than we had.
Instead, pastoral transition is one of the most dangerous moments in the life of most churches. And the longer and more successful the pastorate, the harder it tends to be when they leave.
Certainly, losing a beloved pastor is a time for sadness. But it shouldn’t be as devastating as it so often is. Instead, every pastor should do everything we can to make it as easy as possible for the next pastor and the church to do great ministry after we leave.
Here are five points pastors can work on to help that happen.
1. Think Long-Term – No, Longer
For too many pastors, long-term thinking means next month. For some, it means a five- or ten-year plan.
But in certain ways, we need to be thinking even longer than that.
I am currently in my twenty-fifth year as the pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship. And I’m thinking at least that far into the future. I want to do everything I can, with God’s help, to set the church up for successful, kingdom-building ministry for generations of long-term pastorates after I’m gone to be with Jesus.
That means everything I touch, from the building, to programs, to discipling believers, to finances must take long-term consequences into account.
No, I can’t anticipate everything, and I wouldn’t want to. But the church was here long before me, and it will be here long after me. I want to be sure that the legacy I leave will be a blessing to generations who will never have any reason to know my name.
2. Make Sure People Are Following Jesus, Not You
My church is too dependent on me. Most churches in the western world are too dependent on their pastors.
We can whine about it, we can tell others they need to change, or we can help the church we pastor move towards less dependence on us.
How? By making sure everything in the church carries the obvious stamp of Jesus. Not the pastor, the denomination, the new fads, the old traditions, or anything else.
That includes, but is not limited to...
- Preaching and teaching scriptural principles, not our personal or political biases
- Training people to read and teach the Bible for themselves
- Prioritizing hands-on ministry over sit-and-listen attendance
- Helping people recognize and follow God’s vision for their lives and their church, not just the pastor’s vision
- Living more like Jesus, not just knowing more about Jesus
3. Be A Leader, Not The Leader
While the role of pastor may be over-elevated in our current church climate, that doesn’t mean that human leadership doesn’t matter. It does.
But the pastor should be a leader in the church, not the leader.
One of the primary reasons pastoral transition is so dangerous is because it often leaves a total leadership vacuum when the current pastor departs.
Great leaders don’t make followers. Great leaders make more leaders.
4. Equip The Saints
The prime pastoral mandate is not to do ministry for the church members, but to equip them to do ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12).
An equipped church is healthy enough to weather the challenges that come with a pastoral transition.
This is one of the reasons it’s so frustrating and wrong that longer pastorates make for harder transitions.
If the pastor has been fulfilling their calling of equipping the saints, the longer they’re pastoring the church, the more equipped they should be to carry on with effective ministry whether the pastor is there or not.
5. Start Now
Whether you’re in your 25th year or your first year of pastoring, it’s never too early or too late to start preparing the church for when you’re gone. After all, none of us really knows how soon that could be.
The real measure of a pastor’s success is not the great things that get done during their tenure, it’s how much of a foundational legacy they leave for others to build on.
We all need to have the humility to remember that it’s not our church. No matter what position we hold, or how long we’ve held it.
It’s Christ’s church. Let’s put him first, be good stewards, and pass it on to upcoming generations in better shape than we found it.
Related Preaching Articles
By Lance Witt on May 18, 2017
Pound for pound, nothing is as powerful as your tongue. As pastors, we count on God to use our tongues as His instrument. In last week’s article, we talked about using our words to bless and speak life into others. This week I want to add 2 additional strategies for the wise use of words.
By Charles Stone on Apr 28, 2017
At times we must lead as transactional leaders. However, we should seek to grow our leadership so that we lead more often as transformational leaders.
By Brandon Cox on Apr 27, 2017
You and I have exactly the same amount of time. Rich or poor, young or old, we each get 168 hours in a week’s time.
By Karl Vaters on Apr 21, 2017
Principles that make sense in a big church don't always work in a smaller one.
By Josh Reich on Apr 13, 2017
Now, we all know that God is the one who grows a church, but often that church is healthy and growing because of the character, quality and capacity of the lead pastor and leaders.
By Carey Nieuwhof on Mar 30, 2017
As harsh as it sounds, here’s the truth: if a leader doesn’t buy you, they’ll rarely buy your idea.