Three Lessons I Learned From Our Pastoral Transition by Pastor Cam Hart
Oct 3rd, 2017
On January 8, 2017, my wife Kandace and I became the lead pastors of Solid Rock Church. Together with everyone gathered that day, we took time to celebrate the goodness of God, and to express sincere gratitude to our outgoing senior pastors for their faithfulness to Christ and their many years of selfless care for our church. It was also a day where many in our congregation expressed their support for our leadership, for which we are truly honoured.
However, as I reflect on that day now, probably one of the strongest emotions I recall feeling was relief that we had made it that far! For some in attendance, it might have looked like our pastoral transition was quick and easy, only requiring a two-hour church service, but that event was the culmination of a transition process that spanned several years.
To give you some background on our story, the former pastors had led Solid Rock Church since 1987 – that’s thirty years! They were and still are deeply loved by our congregation – no one was asking for them to step aside. Another significant factor of our transition process was that the former senior pastors were my parents, Ray and Linda Hart.
Of course, this also meant I had previously attended our church as a child, and many people in our church have known me longer as a child than as an adult. Interestingly, each of the three factors I’ve just related brought unique advantages into our situation, but also introduced some very real challenges.
I’ve never heard of anyone characterizing a pastoral transition as easy, but at times during our process, it seemed quite the opposite. In each of those times, however, we felt peace and joy come back over us as we reminded ourselves of God’s faithfulness; and the Lord gave my parents an anointing to lead us through the uncertain moments. Hopefully, the lessons we learned along the way can be helpful to others considering a leadership transition in their church.
So, how did we get through a successful transition? The biggest strength we could lean into was complete confidence that we were being obedient to what God was calling us to do. I had quite a few people ask me over the last several years if this is what I wanted to do, and I always struggled with that question. My answer was always a version of “yes… and no”, because I’ve never particularly aspired to pastor a church, but as I’ve grown in my walk with the Lord, I’ve experienced an increasing desire to be in the centre of His will for my life.
When doubts came, and the process became tangled and unclear, the certainty I had of God’s intentions kept me in the game – it’s the one thing I couldn’t question. Thankfully, our Lord does not change His mind, or waver from His desire for our well-being and fulfilment!
I also found it helpful to remember that God has no desire to keep His plans a secret from His people, so when I had questions, I went back to my Source, and let the Holy Spirit speak guidance and direction over my situation. Proverbs 3:5-6 always reminded me how I didn’t need to rely on my ability to navigate through the process, but rather it is God who “straightens my paths.”
Wait until you know God’s direction, and never question again. A potential transition is not likely to have any traction until both the outgoing and incoming leaders have the assurance that the transition is God’s will, that they are working within God’s timeline, and that God has identified the right people with who you can move forward. A transition is not a process where you want to throw something at the wall and see what sticks.
In our situation, there was a time when Kandace and I felt we had a certainty of God’s plan, but the transition was still several years from being completed. What took place in the meantime? Primarily it was a time for trust to build. My parents had to be able to come to a place where they trusted us and trusted God in us. Further, our church had to get to know our hearts and develop confidence in our leadership motivations.
We could not have moved ahead without trust – it’s the currency of any healthy relationship. Our transition was not able to gain significant momentum until that trust was fully exchanged. Don’t try to move ahead without trust – rather wait, and let it build.
Once trust was established, our transition process needed to be advanced through strong communication. This is an area where we honestly could have done better, but once each party was willing to engage in meaningful (and sometimes challenging) communication, progress was made. Our leadership team also had many opportunities to contribute their honest communication to the process, and their willingness to be real with their thoughts and emotions was incredibly helpful.
I’ll use two metaphors in one sentence to summarize what I’ve learned regarding effective communication: don’t be unwilling to address the elephant in the room, and don’t be afraid to rip the band aid off. Just do both in love, and with as much grace as possible.
Of course, there were many practical aspects to our transition that I’ve not covered, but those are secondary to the spiritual and relational considerations I’ve mentioned. If you’re looking at a potential shift, get these three things right: first, get the mind of Christ. Then, let trust build. Finally, be courageous in your communication.
Above all, remember that a successful pastoral transition is in no way contingent on the leadership abilities of those involved. Fully surrendered leaders can have confidence in God’s desired outcome, knowing that “the One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.”
It's so amazing to be part of God’s plan for our church. We’ve been blessed to experience the Lord’s strength and direction, and discover how His anointing makes walking out our calling a joy and honour.