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hope for churches in stress


One way to ease the stress of transition is to prepare in advance (Mt.16:21; Jn. 14-17).

After 23 years, the pastor of Highland Park Community Church in Dublin (Va.) announced his voluntary retirement in six months. Church leaders took prompt action to reduce the normal strains of healthy transition to the extent possible.

The whole church was invited to participate in a survey. Then 25 persons met for a working retreat in the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains to fine-tune purpose, clarify vision, set goals, and consider action plans for a projected transition period of 1-2 years.

As an initial activity the group distilled and discussed feedback from the survey. In another exercise, participants identified neighborhoods and affinity groups in the Dublin area that Highland Park is most likely to reach.

To consider action steps, the group segmented the transition around three goals: to end well, prepare well, and bond well. Interest-based teams brainstormed ways to honor the outgoing pastor, strengthen the life and mission of the church, and welcome and connect with the incoming pastor.

In alternating small and whole group interaction, participants worked through the ambitious to-do list. Interaction was active and constructive—with only a few rabbit trails. In the final hour conversation coalesced into good and helpful outcomes.

Not every transition allows time for preparation. But, whenever possible, advance prayer and planning can reduce anticipated stress. Churches in transition benefit from proactive doses of appreciation, consensus-building, mobilization, and hope.

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