As a church consultant I lead churches through pastoral transitions and pastoral succession. I often get asked how I know an incoming pastor will be a good fit to a church. I love that question, because I then can explain that pastoral searches are as individual as a thumbprint, and the process is different for every church. Too often I have found that churches approach pastoral succession as a “one size fits all” exercise. But that is like asking everyone in a room to wear the same size shoes and expecting a good “fit” for all.

 In reality, each church faces a distinctive succession journey.

No two churches are exactly alike. You can have two churches in the same town of similar size, demographics, theology, worship style, worship times, life cycle, etc. and the expectations and needs of leadership will be quite different. Even in a multi-site context, one campus will have characteristics that distinguish it from another campus across town. The combinations of people and circumstances that have contributed to its distinct story have had a shaping influence. Understanding these distinctions is critical and set the stage for an optimal succession plan.

What are the options? Ask the right questions and never assume.

If you call me and ask for directions to my house in Minnesota, I will ask you, “Where are you now?”

Clearly understanding your starting point is essential in helping you arrive at the right destination.

If I assume you are in Orlando but you are actually starting out in New York, my directions will likely lead you to somewhere in Canada. If I assume you are in Atlanta but you are actually starting out in Portland, Oregon, I hope you speak Russian.

Assumptions foster confusion, conflict and disunity. Voices around the leadership table frequently have differing ideas about the starting place of the church. They also offer differing perspectives about the challenges and issues facing the church as it looks toward pastoral change. Our perception of reality is shaped by our personal experience or by the experiences of those in our close circle of relationships. Sometimes board or staff leaders are so close to internal issues they fail to have perspective about the depth of issues, or the complexities and challenges of their own culture.

Knowing your starting point is essential to crafting the right path to your desired destination. Organizational intelligence (OI) is an assessment process that offers a three-dimensional view of the church or organization. It is like taking the church to a doctor, a tailor and a travel agent. Leaders come away understanding the overall health and culture of the church, the specific areas where adjustments or changes are needed, and where the people want to go together in the future. OI provides clarity and fosters a unified understanding of the starting point. Armed with this valuable insight, it is easier to talk about possibilities for the succession process, timeframes for the departing pastor, options for the hand-off of leadership, as well as the optimal candidate profile of a successor.

Planned or unplanned, pastoral transitions will occur in the life of every church.  

Rather than fearing pastoral succession for all its risks and complexities, an OI approach equips the church to move forward into the season of pastoral change with confidence, purpose, and hope.

With 10 years of experience, NL Moore & Associates offers a full range of succession planning services utilizing an Organizational Intelligence approach. Please reach out if we can help your church plan for the successful transition of your pastor.