A (Usually) Unique Difference in Pastoral Change

Last week I wrote my initial thoughts on change in ministry. In that post I mentioned that I’m much more like any congregant when it comes to ministry change. We are all ministers of the gospel and need to regularly ask ourselves (and the Lord) how we can best serve the local church and be a part of seeing the gospel go to the nations. When it comes to that, I am just like anyone else.

However, when it comes to serving as a pastor in the way that I (or others) do, there is (usually) a unique difference. This difference doesn’t apply to all areas of service the same way (I think Oaks site pastor was my third distinct role at The Chapel), but does come about with certain roles. 

Certain ministry changes require a change of context, too. 

Regardless of the reason for leaving, certain roles generally require a context change—new church, new city, etc. In other words, there are some people who serve a local church who, when navigating change, also lose the relationship that they have with their local church—even if for a season.

I do not see this as a necessary negative. In many instances such a change is healthy and good for the pastor and the church. However, this context change is something not everyone experiences. I have seen many brothers and sisters who attend The Chapel change jobs. I often have the honor of praying for these folks as they discern what their next step is. If that next step keeps them in Baton Rouge, then their job context changes but their church context doesn’t. That isn’t always the case in pastoral ministry.

Working on my dissertation research over the past months, I saw a constant theme: defining the relationship between the transitioning pastor and the church after the transition is essential—especially if the pastor will remain at the church. (Note: for those who might be trying to read into this, “What is Hans trying to say about his own transition?” the answer is simple: nothing.)  Numerous pastors handed off senior leadership to another pastor and left their church—even if only for a season. Those who returned to their churches either (1) had clear understanding of how they would serve once they returned or (2) wish they had a clear understanding. There was no fuzzy middle.

All this said, pastors (especially lead/teaching pastoral roles) need to be prepared for the usually inevitable context change that will come with any new role in a local church (or any role anywhere). They need to give time to grieve that change and let others grieve that change—because numerous people will be feeling it. However, whatever the change might be and however it might come about, God is gracious to bring all of us through it because his concern for his church is always greater than our own.

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18

It is always Christ’s church—it is never “ours.”

For those interested, my brother Dale and I recorded a podcast last week where we talked a little further about job transitions. There are some audio delays on this one (my apologies). Listen below:

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