What Happens When the Pastor Leaves?

Unfortunately, no one seems to ask that question until the pastor is gone, when it may be too late.  The time to plan is well before the pastor leaves.  Like making a will, no one wants to confront the inevitable.  No one wants to consider a death or retirement of a popular pastor, but to insure the continued effectiveness of the church t must be addressed.

We have all seen a big church lose its pastor and then the board scramble to find a replacement. Only to make a choice that disappoints and in a short period of time no more big church, or the church splits because the two associates fight over leadership and the loser ends up leaving and taking a good portion  of the congregation with him. Once again, no big church.

Pastoral succession needs to be put in place while the pastor is still leading the church. A plan needs to be thought through and documented so leadership fully understands how the plan will work.  Such a plan should provide for uninterrupted pastoral leadership, it should minimize an impact on church operations, should protect church assets and should consider growth opportunities.

When considering a pastoral succession plan, the church board and leadership team should ask: what will happen to the church when the pastor leaves, how will the church culture create advantages or risks when the transition is put in place, what needs to be spelled out so as to maintain the same level of ministry excellence and how will the church’s mission and vision be affected by the change in pastoral leadership?

Make sure the current pastor is leading the group working on the succession plan and you secure the services of a church attorney or church consultant who understands the biblical principles of church governance, leadership and pastoral transition. You will want to end up with a document that sets forth the plan to keep the church moving forward when the new pastor takes over the leadership of the church.  Such document should also spell out the plan of succession clearly so if necessary a court can affirm its legality.


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