Our church is in the process of doing something it has not done in close to 30 years, call a permanent senior pastor. The process began with the election of a pastor search team in summer of 2011 and culminates in the morning with a vote to call our candidate to become our church’s lead pastor, vision-caster, and primary pulpit voice. It’s a pretty amazing experience to see how God has connected everything leading up to this point. And the call weekend, or as I have called it, the beauty pageant, has been an excellent chance to get to know him, his family, and to see our people step up to make things happen. Perhaps you’re finding yourself in a similar situation – a church goes through the process of a leadership transition and a new key leader is entering the mix. The question is though, once he and his family arrive, what will the existing staff do? I believe there are _ key things for an existing church leadership to do when a new senior leader comes in.
- Culture Communicator – The new leader has no idea about the history (baggage, who’s related to who, victories, past experiences), interpersonal dynamics, values, priorities, and instincts of the organization. Those who have been there, especially the longer-tenured leadership, can serve as a guide towards understanding the unique culture every church or organization has. In the mission field, this is called a “person of peace.”
- Supporter – New leadership = New Vision, New Direction, New Emphasis, New Priorities, in short a New Culture. The existing leadership can provide the necessary support, encouragement, and cache that the new leader will need. He will inevitably do things different than the last guy, and with that will come a certain amount of criticism. The existing leadership always needs to have the senior leader’s back. A church that has a divided staff that is not loyal to the lead pastor is a dysfunctional, unhealthy, and toxic setting. The existing staff should champion the pastor in both private conversation and in the public setting the junior leadership may have (children, youth, music, education, etc.). It extends beyond the professional side to the personal as well. His family will have no social circles, no group of friends initially. Support them by inviting them on a personal level to become part of your circles. Treat him and his family as normal people, not your boss or pastor or as a resume reference. We love to have our ministry friends over and we have what we call “game off” where we don’t talk about church life or ministry. It’s wonderfully refreshing.
- Tour Guide – Where do you get groceries? What’s the best place to get sushi? Who has the best coffee? How about schools? Your new leader may have no clue what is going on in the community he is moving to, which is where the existing leadership can be of great value. Church leadership has a vast professional range, but because of the nature of work it is also personal. Your new senior leader and his family have interests, hobbies, and will be looking for everything. Help him out. Take an hour and drive him around sometime, invite him into your circles.
- Bodyguard – Every church has them, you know who I’m talking about: that guy. You might have several of them. Or if you don’t think your church has one, you may very well be that guy. Existing leadership know who the key people are in the church, the ones who will be supportive, encouraging, and buy into the vision. And you also know who the ones are who want their agenda, who want leverage/power/control, or who want to throw existing staff or other lay leadership under the bus. The existing staff needs to step in as bodyguard and allow the new senior leader the opportunity to adjust, acclimate, and develop the personal/professional relationships. Work to protect your leader, don’t be scared to take one for the team. I’ve watched other leaders go to bat for me to protect me, and it’s spoken volumes to me to do the same when they need it. The church leadership, especially the key ministerial leadership, must form a “Band of Brothers” approach of protection, encouragement, and mutual support.
- Confidant – The senior leadership needs to know that the current leadership is a group he can trust. Let me rephrase that, he needs to know he can trust you. Perhaps you will find yourself being a key person that the senior leader has said he will rely on. Don’t take that trust lightly or abuse the fact that the ‘new guy’ is willing to give you great value. Be confidential, be honest, but more than anything be there for him. Until he has a full knowledge of the culture, the interpersonal dynamics, and the ability to build the full team to his vision, he will likely have a small number (perhaps 1-2) of people he will fully lean on to let the veil down with.
- Prayer partner – More than anything else, the existing leadership must commit to praying for and with the new leader. He needs it. His family needs it. Commit to it and make that a regular action in the office. Pray specifically for him in areas he shares, and develop a prayer relationship that extends beyond the immediate health concerns to spiritual matters of repentance, reconciliation, missions, spiritual warfare, and unity within the body.
What would you add to this list? For those of you who have gone through a situation like this, how did you help support the incoming leader? Senior pastors, what would you like to see from the existing staff when you come into a new situation?