Pastoral Transition: Six Factors That Help A Church Navigate Big Changes

Six months ago today, our church made our biggest transition in a quarter century.

After being the lead pastor for 25 years, I stepped aside so that Gary Garcia, the youth pastor who has been with me for that entire time, could take my position, with me becoming the teaching pastor.

How is the church doing? How have they accepted the new pastor? How do we work together now that the lines of authority have shifted?

In a word, it’s working great. On every level.


In addition to the essential factor that we all believe this transition was and is God’s plan for me, the church and its new lead pastor, there are six factors key that are contributing to helping this work:

Pastoral Transition: A Very Personal Note

It’s Sunday evening as I write this blog post.

And I’m feeling a huge flood of emotions.

Strong emotions are normal for pastors on Sunday afternoons, no matter how Sunday services went. But today is different for me.

Plus, there’s the added quirk that I’m writing this on a flight from California to Belfast, Northern Ireland with my wife, Shelley.

First I’ll tell you about the emotions, then why we’re flying to the UK.

The Pastoral Transition Zone: Catching God’s Timing For Your Church And Ministry

God’s timing is perfect.

When he does something in our lives unilaterally (as in, he doesn’t ask for our permission or cooperation) his timing is often quick, surprising and sometimes painful. It’s only when we see those events in the rear view mirror that we understand what he was doing – sometimes not even then.

But there are other times when God chooses to bring us in on a decision in advance. He gives us a choice. And a chance to participate with him.

When those circumstances have happened in my life, I’ve noticed that the Lord usually gives us a window of time to implement those changes – often a very large, generous window. This allows us the wonderful opportunity to see what God is about to do, discover our role in it, prepare for it to take place, and open the gate to turn it loose.

It’s like the hand-off zone in a relay race. The smaller the transition zone, the harder the hand-off. But the longer the zone, the smoother the hand-off can be.

Why I Won’t Be The Lead Pastor At Cornerstone Any More – But I’m Not Leaving

Hi, I’m Karl, and I’m still a small church pastor. But I won’t be in the first chair much longer.

On Sunday, my long-time youth pastor, Gary Garcia and I presented a plan for him to become the lead pastor of Cornerstone. I will stay on at the church, assuming the position of teaching pastor.

It was a great day, filled with surprises, tears, stunned silence, laughter, hugs, relief, uncertainty…

All the feels.

Pastoral transition is one of the most dangerous times in a congregation’s life. Probably more local churches have seen their mission and ministry crippled or ended by bad pastoral transitions than all other reasons combined.

Some of this is because the western church has a far-too-heavy reliance on the pastor’s role. Unlike many of my friends (and a lot of faithful readers), I don’t believe the pastor-led model of church is wrong. But we need to do it better. Especially in the hand-off.

It’s Time For A Church Transition: Should The Pastor Leave? Hand Off? Or Reboot?

I’ve pastored three churches.

I left the first one in the middle of a long-term turnaround, believing it was best for someone else to finish the job I had started.

I left the second one early, when I realized I was not the right pastor to help the turnaround happen.

In the third (and current) one, we not only made a turnaround, but we’ve reinvented ourselves several times in the almost 25 years I’ve been pastoring here.

So how does a pastor know when it’s time to leave, prepare for a hand-off, or walk with them through a rebirth? Here’s what I’ve learned.

Deal-Breakers: 7 Ways God May Tell a Pastor to Leave a Church

“Do I stay, or do I go?”

It’s one of the toughest questions a pastor has to face.

Pastoring isn’t easy. There will always be difficulties to address and bad history to overcome. But most pastors are in it for the long haul.

This month I celebrate 24 years in my current church. But before I came here, I left two short-term pastorates. One with great sorrow, wondering why the Lord hadn’t called us to stay longer. The other in great pain, wondering why God called us there to begin with.

The reasons for both have become clearer as the years have passed. Including the opportunity to help others by sharing the lessons I learned.

Here are 7 good reasons it might be time to leave your current church: