I’m about to start a brand new transitional ministry going to a church where a long time pastor is no longer there and the church decided they wanted a time of intentional transition before going to search for the new pastor, which is wise. Whenever there’s been a long-term pastor and if there’s been a little bit of a crisis in there, that helps, or doesn’t help, that makes it even more important.
It’s been interesting as I’ve done transitional ministry for these past seven and a half years, I have learned things I would import if I was ever to go into a regular long-term pastorate again. One of the biggest things I’ve learned is how to assess and how to evaluate the current reality in a church.
When we go into a transitional situation, roughly the first three months are a time of conscious, deliberate, intentional, structured assessment. It’s all about learning the church including the current reality, the history, the challenges, the hopes, the dreams, the culture, and the relationships. One of the challenges is not to jump to conclusions too soon; to never make a hard conclusion, a hard decision about what really is going on or has gone on until you’ve walked through a full assessment.
That assessment includes surveys from the congregation including congregational meetings and interviewing people. Leadership development starts to happen in the assessment phase, but it’s just a real data gathering stage. In fact, my mindset is, I don’t know if I always succeed, but my mindset is that I want to be listening a lot more than I’m speaking. I want to get the pulse of the church and understand its values and what is really going on beneath the surface.
And then at the end of that assessment time, part of it is updating or crafting a history document of the church. It’s not a celebratory 25th Anniversary history. It’s a real history of what has really happened in the life of the church, good and bad without making it personal. This is the life of the church. It looks at the current state of the church, statistics and demographics, the community it’s in and doing any comparison between what the church looks like and what the community looks like. This is all a part of assessment.
And then from that assessment, I propose some KRAs, key result areas, some things that need to be addressed before we proceed to searching for a new pastor. I present these to the board of elders and we wrestle them through and reshape them and come up with a final list. Then we present them to the congregation, showing them the current reality of the church and the things that need to be addressed, and from those here are the specific things we need to address before we search for a new pastor.
Now at a regular pastorate, the KRAs wouldn’t be in relation to the time for a new pastor, the KRAs would be in relation to the next year or the next six months or maybe some longer-term plans. But you have these areas that clearly need to be addressed and strengthened, and areas that you can build on existing strengths. And then from those key result areas, you form a very simple strategic plan.
A common key result area, for instance, is the need to strengthen the governance of the board of elders. And so you have a plan involving board training, having the Board of Elders read certain books, structure in a process for any new elders who are coming on and make it a part of the board culture. And you lay out these steps with dates tied to them and work your way through that strategic plan.
In some ways, the whole assessment phase takes longer than you want it to because you want to get down to business as a transitional pastor. The board wants to go to search and the church wants to go to search, but it forces you to just ask the honest questions about where the church really is.
You’ve probably heard the saying that the first task of leadership is to define reality. And whether it’s a transitional role or another ministry role, it’s very important that you define the current reality of your ministry. It’s only once you’ve defined that and the leadership understands it that you can say okay, here’s where we are and how do we move forward to where we believe we are called to go.
So I encourage you learn to assess if you’re starting a new ministry, if you’re in a new position, or even if you’re just into the end of a season of life in a church. Take a step back and do some conscious assessment and say what’s the situation really, how are we doing and where are a handful of things, big key result areas that need to be addressed. And they make a plan to start working on those areas, preferably under the direction of the Spirit and see what God might want to do in your ministry context.