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Transitional Pastor?

If this type of pastor is new to you, you're not the only one. Many churches Flourish interacts with have not understood the critical work God could do in your congregation through the ministry of a Transitional Pastor.

Below is a list of questions and answers Flourish most frequently answers about our Transitional Pastors. If you have a question that is not answered below, reach out at info@flourishcoaching.org.

With gratitude, a part of the genesis of this FAQ is Bud Brown's excellent article.
  • Won't having a Transitional Pastor delay our church getting a new long-term pastor?
    Perhaps. But your church will likely be healthier, know itself better, and find a higher quality candidate when it comes time to enter the Pastor Search phase of Flourish's Church Transition Process. Using a Transitional Pastor is an example of how to go slow to go fast. Not using a Transitional Pastor when it would be wise to, can lead to the church's next pastor becoming an unintentional transitional pastor. Can your church bear the cost of your next pastor having a rather short tenure and starting all over again with a transition process?
  • Are Flourish's Transitional Pastors vetted, trained, and coached along the way?
    Yes! Flourish only employs highly experienced and vetted pastors for Transitional Pastor roles. Each of our Transitional Pastors undergoes initial training, receives ongoing coaching and training, and utilizes Flourish's proven Church Transition Process.
  • Do we get to pick our Transitional Pastor?
    Of course! Our goal is to put the resumes and sermons of two qualified candidates before the Elders of the church and allow them to pick a first candidate to interview. Assuming the interview goes well, it is common for the church to pay for the candidate to come for a visit and ascertain if a match is made. In picking two candidates to put before the Elders, we seek to match the gifts and experiences of the Transitional Pastor to what we understand to be the situation on the ground at the church.
  • What is a Transitional Pastor (or TP for short)?
    A Transitional Pastor is a specially trained and experienced pastor who serves a church using a defined process when they are between long-term pastors.
  • Should every church use a Transitional Pastor?
    Certainly every church should consider using a Transitional Pastor. Why? An external voice of experience bringing a thoughtful process to bear typically yields a better transition from one long-term pastor to another. Average pastoral tenure in America is around 5 years. That means pastors are leaving just at the point when a well-matched pastor is beginning to enter the "productive years" of his pastorate. The use of a Flourish Transitional Pastor can help your congregation successfully call a pastor who will remain with you for a decade or more.
  • How much does a Transitional Pastor cost?
    It varies from church to church. Like in other kinds of business arrangements, the first goal is to define a "scope of work" after the needs of the individual congregation are understood. Flourish's goal is to seek to have the church's annual "out the door" costs be the same as the last pastor's total package (i.e. total hit to the budget including salary, housing allowance, and benefits). A suitable portion of the last pastor's "expense reimbursement account" should be granted to the Transitional Pastor to cover his ministry expenses. To meet this financial goal, quite often the Transitional Pastor will commute for long weekends to the church site while maintaining a primary residence elsewhere. Such a Transitional Pastor will end up working somewhat less than full-time though maintain effectiveness. This is both cost-efficient for the church and humane on the Transitional Pastor who can sleep in his own bed some nights of the week. A "full-time" Transitional Pastor obviously costs more. But if the church desires that and can afford it, then Flourish maintains a roll of vetted, experienced, and trained Transitional Pastors who are willing to pick up and move for a full-time role.
  • What does a Transitional Pastor do?
    A Transitional Pastor does what any other pastor might do (preach, lead, care, administration, etc.) but ALSO leads the church through Flourish's three step Church Transition Process.
  • We are currently considering hiring an independent Transitional Pastor. Are there advantages to using a Flourish Transitional Pastor?
    We count among friends of Flourish a bevy of independent Transitional Pastors. These men certainly bring the strengths of their experiences to the table as Transitional Pastors. For this we are grateful. However, there are distinct downsides to using an independent Transitional Pastor. 1) Flourish has worked with a couple of hundred churches over the course of our 9 years of existence as a ministry. We can bring all that experience to bear in the situation of your church. An independent Transitional Pastor brings merely his experience (good as it might be) to the table. 2) Many times an independent Transitional Pastor has had no specialized training for the rather nuanced work of church transition. All Flourish Transitional Pastors are trained and then coached through the work they would do at your church. 3) We have found that almost all independent Transitional Pastors do not have rigorous, thorough, data-driven, field-tested, market-leading and spiritually wise processes they have performed at many churches. Flourish uses our processes every day to bless a wide spectrum of churches. 4) When it comes time to find a pastor, an independent Transitional Pastor brings merely his network of contacts into the equation. Flourish brings a database of candidates, a network purposefully cultivated for the decades our staff have been in ministry, and easy access to other networks we have curated for this purpose. This means Flourish can very easily get your pastoral opening in front of hundreds of qualified and potentially interested candidates. 5) As the word "independent" would suggest, an independent Transitional Pastor does not have an organization sitting behind them to assist them, coach them, troubleshoot when needed, or even provide additional resources from other staff members. Flourish brings all of that to the table when we place a Transitional Pastor at your church.
  • When you have some degree of disagreement on the kind of pastor that you need next
    Flourish's Church Transition Process, which would be led by your Transitional Pastor, is designed to eventually lead the congregation to answer the most important question of all, Who can take us there? A clear Pastor Profile produced collaboratively is the most essential ingredient for - Bringing unity between leaders and the congregation - Writing a Lead Pastor Packet (example here) that induces the right kinds of candidates to apply - Recruiting members of a Pastor Search Committee who are passionate about matching candidates to the Pastor Profile, not comparing candidates to their own preconceived (and sometimes erroneous) notions of what kind of pastor would be good for your church
  • When it is a “commuter church” (members are very different from those who live near the church)
    A church in this situation has many times lost sight of their calling to love their collective neighbors near the facility where the church meets. Jesus took the 10 commandments and summarized them with "love God" and "love your neighbor as yourself". The parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us that the neighbors God is calling us to love, befriend, help practically (if needed) and share the gospel with may be people who are quite different than us. The Great Commission calls us to love the lost around us that they might hear the gospel from our lips and come to repentance and faith. Flourish's Church Transition Process is designed in its second phase (what we call Envisioning) to study the neighborhood around the church facility so that neighbors and their needs might be known and ministry would be directed towards them.
  • When it has been three years since the last ministry audit (everything reviewed for “mission fit” and amended as needed)
    Getting clarity on mission, vision, and values (or the second phase of Flourish's Church Transition Process that we have named Envisioning) enables a church to know what "fits" and what is a "misfit". It is best to have a wise and seasoned Transitional Pastor help the leadership bring about alignment during the transitional period. This will keep the new pastor from having to make enemies right off the bat upon arriving and instead he inherits a functioning ministry whose sacred cows have been ushered out to pasture.
  • When a large percentage of the congregation expresses interest in switching denominations
    It has been recognized for decades by the mainline church that a key task for a Transitional Pastor is to reignite the denominational linkage of a congregation (see interim task #4). We recognize that at times this attempt does not yield the fruit of strengthening the linkage to a congregation's existing judicatory. Instead, it yields a separation and a non-affiliation or a re-affiliation. In any case, better to have a wise Transitional Pastor lead a congregation through that discernment process than saddle a new pastor with putting all his pile of chips into a denominational transition.
  • How many of the below things should be true of us before we should consider using a Transitional Pastor?
    One is enough! Only the healthiest of churches should seriously consider not using a Transitional Pastor. Most congregations (85%) are in need of revitalization. You can quickly self-assess your church using Ken Priddy's diagnostic to see if your church is on "incline". If not, you should seriously consider making use of a Transitional Pastor. Why? As our friends in the EPC put it, "This transition period [between long term pastors] is by far the best time for church leadership to pause and reflect on vision and mission and the time they are most open for change." If you desire a vital church pleasing to the Lord, you should seriously consider making use of a Transitional Pastor.
  • When the previous pastor had a long tenure (>9 years)
    Wait a minute! I thought it was ideal for a pastor to have a long tenure. It is! Time and again research reveals the churches do well and appreciate it when their pastors stay a long time. But a transitional period occurs after such a pastor has left. In the transitional period the church needs time 1) To grieve the loss that inevitably comes with change. Many times a beloved pastor's resignation comes as a complete surprise to the congregation. 2) To take stock of their current health. Flourish's three step Transition Process begins with what we call a Church Health Assessment (CHA). A CHA helps a church understand two questions, Where have we been? (Our history) and Where are we? (Present state of health). Indirectly a CHA also seeks to suss out an implicit question, How did we get here? Taking the time to take stock is important because even beloved long-tenured pastors are imperfect and their weaknesses and blind spots remain as influences in a congregation. 3) To own their identity apart from the previous pastor. A long-tenured pastor leaves a suitable mark on a congregation. However, a congregation must own its own identity. See more on this topic below under "When the church’s leaders cannot state or agree on the church’s mission, vision (or direction), and or values (identity)".
  • When the church is facing a tragedy, scandal, or division
    When the worst of things happen in a congregation it especially a time to consider a Transitional Pastor. Scandal especially involving a pastor or staff member, death of a pastor (especially the Lead Pastor), division on the Elder Board, among the Staff, or in the congregation are among the hardest kinds of situations to handle. They easily burn out volunteer Elders and church staff. In such a situation, a wise Elder Board will seriously consider bringing in a Transitional Pastor to lead the congregation to a place of healing and re-orientation so they can welcome a new Lead Pastor.
  • When there is backstabbing and gossiping in your congregation OR there are unresolved issues that need to be addressed
    In either of these cases, throwing a new pastor into that situation is nightmarish. It is much better for a Transitional Pastor to move towards people seeking repentance (when appropriate) and peace in the place of unresolved issues. Many times what lies behind both sin and unresolved issues are idols. When people are willing to repent of worshiping things that are not God and move towards Christ in renewed faith, that can lead to speech that builds up and quick resolution of issues in light of Jesus' priorities. Sometimes these kinds of issues are prevalent enough that during a Transitional Pastor's ministry a Sacred Assembly might be called.
  • When the church faces financial challenges
    You might wonder how spending money can help with a money problem. Churches end up with money troubles for a variety of reasons. Sometimes malfeasance is at play. A Transitional Pastor can restore trust. Sometimes the congregation has shrunk. A Transitional Pastor can foster the church "getting back on mission" so giving disciples are made from former pagans. Sometimes hard budget decisions (typically related to staff, missionaries, and/or beloved programs) have to be made. Better to have a Transitional Pastor lead that charge than have a new pastor make immediate enemies of congregants whose favorite staff person, missionary, or program must be eliminated in order to ensure the financial longevity of the congregation.
  • When the previous pastor left under duress for any reason
    Pastors leave churches for a variety of reasons some God-honoring and others not so much. The pastor who is "asked to resign" may attempt to fight the request or may acquiesce. In either case the congregation is left hurting. Even if there is relief that a troublesome pastor is gone, there are "leftovers" in the congregation that need to be worked through. A wise Transitional Pastor can help a church appropriately face the painful parts of a pastor's departure by implementing a GRACE analysis.
  • When several long-tenured families control the decision-making of the church
    This falls into the category of what practitioners call "power dynamics". Shifting power dynamics is a key role a Transitional Pastor can play at your church. Many times the previous pastor simply put up with the wonky power dynamics but the church likely suffered and is suffering. A Transitional Pastor can shift these power dynamics by his presence and leadership so that by the time the new pastor comes he does not have to put up with the same dynamic.
  • When the church’s leaders cannot state or agree on the church’s mission, vision (or direction), and or values (identity)
    All churches pursue a mission coordinate with their values seeking to see something happen. It is inevitable. However, the functional reality of churches is that they easily lose sight of keeping those items (mission, vision, values) Biblical in nature. The challenge for a church in transition is that it must come to own together these important distinguishing marks of a particular congregation. In Flourish's Church Transition Process, the second phase of work is named Envisioning. The Envisioning Process is designed to help a congregation own their own mission, vision, and values in preparation for intelligently calling a pastor who can help lead them forward in ministry.
  • When the church is in a phase of recline or decline (i.e. attendance has plateaued - people coming in offset those who leave - and or/ there's a significant difference between the “official membership” roster and attendance figures)
    Ken Priddy (among others) popularized the idea of a Church Lifecycle. You can read the linked article and evaluate your own congregation soberly as to its relative state of health. Attendance compared to the "peak" of the church, and/or a mismatch between the membership rolls and Sunday population many times are like indicator lights on the dashboard of a car warning of danger. What is the solution to a church in recline or decline? A new incline from renewed spiritual vitality! A Transitional Pastor can help your church face its current state and lead the congregation to re-embrace the Great Commission. When that happens new people begin to come to Christ and could not imagine doing anything but attending church with those who loved them enough to share the gospel with them.
  • When the church "churns" pastors
    Perhaps paradoxically this kind of church needs to face the same challenge as the church which had a long-tenured pastor. A church can turn over pastors because - It does not have a stable sense of identity and direction. A congregation in this state many times cannot answer the questions, "Who are we?" and "Where are we going?" If a congregation does not have that self-knowledge, they will continue to make mistakes in calling pastors who do not suit them. In Flourish's Church Transition Process, these questions get answered in the phase we call Envisioning. AND/OR - It will not face its problems. A church that refuses to face the issues that plague it will keep turning over pastors. Less than helpful staff, Elders who will not let the pastor lead, problem people left in positions of authority, sin that is unwisely left non-confronted, and a church not "owning" its size dynamic are all common sources of problems that can lead a congregation to regularly lose their pastor. Flourish's Church Health Assessment seeks to identify the strengths of a church as well as the areas where Biblical health could be strengthened. Problems that are uncovered will be detailed to the Elders along with recommendations for bringing greater health to the congregation.
  • When the facilities seem worn and tired to the unbiased observer (typically it will have been more than ten years since you remodeled the property)
    Flourish recently worked with two different clients who were between long-term pastors and who gave us tours of their facilities. For both churches, their worship space was less than ideal to the unbiased observer. That is not a good situation for a new long-term pastor to walk into! It is better to let a Transitional Pastor lead a modest remodeling charge during the transition as a part of refreshing the ministry of the church. It is likely he will have participated in a building program in his previous experiences and be able to bring wisdom to bear on the situation though he'll need a team to accomplish the goal.
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