Pastoral Transition Tools – Transition Timeline

I have come to understand that the planning and execution of a pastoral transition can make a significant difference in the fruitfulness of both a pastor and congregation in the months ahead. There are a number of resources that I have used to develop tools which I have used in transition. You can find these and more of my writing on pastoral transitions here. Also, I commend these books to you that I have found to be helpful during a pastoral transition (Amazon affiliate links):

This is a draft timeline of key events in the farewell process for the congregation and outgoing pastor. It is compiled from the resources above and from my own experience. While each event may not be appropriate for every setting, I hope that you find it helpful.

Transition Announcement – As It Occurs

Announce the appointment of the current pastor to serve a new congregation and the appointment of the incoming pastor to serve the current congregation in worship and by email.

Transition Team – 12 Weeks Out

Identify a team that will tend to the transition for about 6 months. It may include members of the staff parish team as well as others. This team will help make these farewell opportunities happen and help create a network of support for the incoming pastor.

Farewell Letter – 10 Weeks Out

The outgoing pastor writes a letter to the congregation to offer care during transition, celebrate time together, and clarifying roles and responsibilities for the months ahead. It may be delivered by email, postal mail, or regular newsletter.

Exit Interview – 9 Weeks Out

The outgoing pastor and staff parish team share an informal conversation about the pastor’s tenure. Create space to share joys, concerns, hurts, blessings, accomplishments, and work left undone. The purpose of this conversation is learning for both congregation and pastor.

Sharing Memories – 8 Weeks Out

Create the opportunity for congregants to share memories of the outgoing pastor and family (if applicable). There may be cards made available to share written memories, invitation to share photos, and / or other items.

Fun Facts – 6 Weeks Out

Begin sharing a few fun facts about the incoming pastor during worship each week to provide additional introduction. This may be done in a fun, light-hearted way.

Farewell Event and Meal – 4 Weeks Out

Create the opportunity for congregation and pastor to share a meal together. It may be a potluck meal. During this time make space for sharing the way that God has been at work during their time together, remembering significant moments, and offer blessings for the future. This event is planned on the Sunday before the pastor’s final Sunday to help make it possible for congregants who may be away to participate in farewell events.

“Pass the Mantle” in Worship – 3 Weeks Out

As one of the final acts of worship on the outgoing pastor’s final Sunday, the pastor offers a tangible item to a lay leader. It may be placed in the sanctuary as a visible sign of pastoral transition. The item could be something, such as, a study bible, cup and plate for communion, stole, or other sign of the pastoral role.

First Sunday for Incoming Pastor – 0 Weeks Out

During worship, the incoming pastor may receive the item left in the sanctuary by the outgoing pastor.

Pastoral Transition Tools – Pastor to Pastor Debrief

I have come to understand that the planning and execution of a pastoral transition can make a significant difference in the fruitfulness of both a pastor and congregation in the months ahead. There are a number of resources that I have used to develop tools which I have used in transition. You can find these and more of my writing on pastoral transitions here. Also, I commend these books to you that I have found to be helpful during a pastoral transition (Amazon affiliate links):

The Pastor to Pastor Debrief occurs between the outgoing and incoming pastor. There are a number of questions, practicalities, and knowledge about the workings of the congregation that can be incredibly helpful to pass from one pastor to the next. Here is an outline of a Pastor to Pastor Debrief that I have used as a guide during my pastoral transitions. It is compiled from the resources above and some additions of my own. While every question may not be appropriate for every setting, this provides an outline to cover some of the most important topics. Enjoy!

Worship

  • Particular traditions and styles
  • Attendance trends
  • Recent controversies
  • Preaching style
  • Time issues
  • Important traditions
  • Seasonal variations
  • Special services
  • Who is involved in planning worship?
  • Are any new services being planned?
  • What is the role of clergy and laity during worship?
  • What is the role of children and youth in worship?
  • Is there children’s worship during the main worship services?
  • Is there a children’s message in the service? If so, who is responsible for the children’s message?
  • How is the bulletin and / or presentation prepared? Who is involved? What is the timleine for completion each week?
  • How does the church conduct the sacraments? When is communion offered and by what means?
  • Are tehre ecumenical community worship events? When?

Grow

  • Adult education / formation programs
  • Children’s education / formation programs
  • Youth education / formation programs
  • Important new programs that need support
  • Older programs that are important
  • Seasonal traditions

Serve

  • Board role
  • Commitee structure
  • Meeting cycles
  • Annual program calendar
  • Report formats
  • Facility issues and policies
  • Keys and access issues
  • Alarm system

Personnel

  • Staff structure
  • Job descriptions
  • Evaluation processes
  • Staff meetings and agenda
  • Staff issues
  • Recent hires and terminations
  • Training and coaching
  • Are any staff positions currently vacant?
  • Are any staff changes needed or expected?

Buildings and Grounds

  • How are building items and maintenance handled? Who orders supplies? Is there a custodian? What are her / his hours?
  • What community groups use the buildgin?

Information Technology

  • Describe the computer network. Is it wireless? Is the pastor provided with a computer? What kind?
  • Does the church have a web page? If so, who maintains it?
  • What are the appropriate passwords the pastor needs to know? How will the pastor’s email be set up?
  • Who knows about the church’s membership and financial software?

Give

  • Fundraising approaches
  • Giving patterns and records
  • Financial trends
  • Financial issues
  • Are there any tenure-bridging financial issue?
  • Are there any tenure-bridging capital issues?
  • What is the normal stewardship process in this church?
  • Who is in charge of promoting stewardship in the church?
  • What is the number of pledging and non-peldging households?
  • What is the average financial contribution of each member family to the church?
  • What is the pastor’s expected role in stewardship campaigns?
  • Does the church have a permanent endowment fund? If so, what is it used for and how is it funded?

Share

  • What is the church’s primary method of communication with its member? What percentage of the church membership uses electronic communication (email, text, interet, etc.)?
  • How often does the church newsletter come out? How is it distributed? What does the pastor need to prepare for the newsletter?
  • How does the church communicate with the community? What kind of advertising does teh church do?

Care

  • Lay care team
  • Names of terminally ill
  • Names of bereaved in last twelve months
  • Patterns of pastoral care
  • What agencies or resources are available for those who may call with needs for emergency food, clothing, shelter, or assistance?
  • What families are currently experiencing loss, illness, or special needs?
  • Who are the homebound members? Is there a regular ministry in place for them?

Pastoral

  • Unusual expectations of pastor
  • Is there a ministerial assocaition in the community? Provide contact information.

Church Climate

  • How warm are church members to one another? To new people?
  • How is the morale in this church?
  • How open is this church to change?
  • What are the significant conflicts in the church?
  • How central is faith to members’ lives?
  • How conservative or liberal is this church?
  • How diverse is this church theologically, ethnically, and demographically?
  • Where are the landmines?

People

  • Who is angry at the church?
  • Who is angry at the pastor?
  • Who are important allies?
  • Who can’t be trusted?
  • Who has an agenda?
  • Who will keep confidences?
  • Who is in danger of burning out?
  • Who is undersused?
  • Who has recently retired?
  • Who are the five most influential persons in the church?
  • Who are the saints?

Documents to Include

  • Copy of the church’s vision / mission statement
  • Most recent minutes of all-church conferences or meetings
  • Church directory, annotated with information about relationships, pastoral care nees, and potential leaders
  • Church email list
  • Organizational chart and list of church lay leaders and committee members
  • Church policies for weddings, funerals, building use, employee handbook, etc.
  • Current and last two years of budget reports
  • Latest month’s financial statement
  • Last three church newsletters
  • Recent bulletins for each worship service
  • Bulletins for most recent Christmas Eve and Easter services, as well as other special services that are routinely part of the church’s life
  • Church keys

Strategizing for the District

Since being appointed to serve within the Topeka District of the Great Plains Annual Conference, I have had the opportunity to serve as the lead for the Topeka District Strategy Team. I have been learning as I go, seeking to get to know congregations and leaders of the area. Here are some of my current thoughts on how this team can be most effective to create a strategy for the district.

During some years in the past, the Great Plains Annual Conference (and three conferences) has operated with a structure that encouraged local churches to send both people and resources to be part of initiatives and ministry efforts that originated and were executed at the annual conference level. This lead to a measure of success. However, this model is not working as effectively as it once was.

In recent years, there has been efforts made to push the resourcing and leadership “down” from the annual conference toward the mission field of local churches. Some of this is being accomplished with the creation of Networks which connect local churches to more effectively reach their collective mission field. It also is being accomplished through the work of district strategy teams which work alongside the District Superintendent to develop a strategy to reach the mission field within the district.

What does not need to happen is for a district strategy team to come up with a layer of strategy, events and planning which local churches are encouraged to add to their existing ministries and goals. Instead, I believe that a more effective approach will be to look for common goals that exist among many congregations in the district and consider what resources or strategies that district can bring to bear which support those goals.

As part of the charge conference process, goals are developed and turned in annually from every charge in the district. This fall, we are running an experiment by offering local churches goals to consider for 2019 (Experiment_ Topeka District Local Church Goals (PDF)). If churches have an existing process for developing and iterating on goals, great – keep doing it. However, if they do not, they might consider one or more of these goals for the year ahead. The purpose here is to help local churches make progress on goal setting and create the opportunity for local churches to coalesce around similar goals. We’ll see how this goes…

Regardless of whether or not local churches choose from the experimental goals which were offered to them, our next step will be to review the goals from all the churches in the district to see what, if any, similarities there are. Then, create strategies to help support local churches in the goals that they have already set for themselves.

I am hopeful that this approach will support local churches and more effectively coordinate our efforts together as a district.

Making the Network Work

Over the last several years, the Great Plains Annual Conference has introduced Networks into our life in ministry together. These are groups of congregations that share a physically contiguous mission field – all the churches in an area. The church which I serve, Berryton United Methodist Church, is connected in a network with Big Springs UMC, Highland Park UMC, Lecompton UMC, Shawnee Heights UMC, Stull UMC, and Tecumseh UMC.

I have the opportunity to serve as the Network Leader which means convening the pastor and a lay person from each congregation so that we can make progress together and reach our mission field more effectively. I am committed to making our network work. I don’t have time for to add a meeting to my schedule in which we are getting together only to “check the box” that we have completed the task.

We met for the first time as a Network last week. If you are interested in the agenda, click here to download it as a PDF. I believe that our network has the opportunity to be the most innovative in the Great Plains Annual Conference. I am looking forward to building relationships with colleagues and friends and working together to share God’s love with our neighbors and live boldly into God’s dream for southeast Shawnee and northwest Douglas county.

Highly Functioning Teams

A couple weeks ago, I traveled to Houston for continuing education focused on highly functioning teams. It was part of the Advancing Pastoral Leadership program that I have been part of for several years. We had the opportunity to hear from leaders from Chick-fil-A, NASA, and Chapelwood UMC. It was an excellent learning opportunity and there was much that I found valuable. Here are just a few quotes that were significant for me:

  • “Don’t coast.” – Janice Virtue
  • “Just because you are a good leader doesn’t mean you are good at leading people.” – Kate Potter
  • “No one is smart enough to run everything.” – Wayne Hale
  • “All great projects, halfway through, look like a disaster.” – Wayne Hale
  • “There is no perfect solution” – Wayne Hale
  • “If you want everyone to be on the same page, there has to be a page.” – Bob Johnson

I am grateful for the opportunity to learn and continue to develop my leadership abilities to serve the congregation and community.

Two Berryton Buffaloes

On Monday, we enrolled our children in First and Second Grade at Berryton Elementary School. While we have driven by the building, this was our very first time inside. We filled out all the papers, received a quick tour of the building and found their classrooms. It was another milestone in our season of transition and putting down roots in the community.

I am looking forward to being close to their school. The property of Berryton United Methodist Church and Berryton Elementary are adjoining and the building and playground are clearly visible from my office window. Also, the congregation has developed a partnership of support and care over the years. I am looking forward to the year ahead!

Reflection on My Time at First UMC El Dorado

Last Sunday there was a farewell event for our family after the 11 a.m. worship service. It was a wonderful time – heartfelt thanks, earnest wishes, and blessings were shared from one to the other. I shared a few things to those that were there and share them with you here.

Thumbnail Sketch

If I were to give a thumbnail sketch of my time as the preacher at First UMC El Dorado, this is what it would be:

As the preacher at First UMC El Dorado, I led the congregation to design and execute a multi-year strategic plan which resulted in the development of a discipleship pathway to more deeply engage people in the life of faith, a capital campaign for 1.75 times our annual operating budget to renovate of our 1920s era sanctuary, and increased our organizational health through volunteer and staff development.

Clearly this is written in the most positive light, yet I believe it captures some of the most significant highlights of ministry over the last six years.

Three Memorable Days as Pastor

Sunday, August 12, 2012

We had just arrived to town and our daughter, Anne, was a few months old. It was time for her baptism. My father, Mark Conard, baptized her during worship. Baptism is a significant moment in the life of a family and this was particularly meaningful because my father was able to officiate. I remember watching him walk her down the aisle to show the congregation and the love and care in his voice as offered God’s grace in the act of baptism. It was a meaningful day in the life of our family.

Final Week of October 2016

My father died on October 18, 2016. As we were with family during the days that followed, someone from the Staff Parish team asked what would be helpful for us. I sometimes struggle with asking for things, though in this case I managed to say that basics around the house would be helpful for us – mowing the lawn and cleaning a bit inside our house. I remember pulling back into El Dorado after my dad’s service of death and resurrection and graveside service – the lawn looked great. When we walked inside our home was fresh and clean. The care and love that these simple acts demonstrated was overwhelming.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Near the end of the school year, I received an email from one of the staff at Skelly Elementary School that they had something for me in the office. So, when I picked up my son, John, from Kindergarten I went into the office and was greeted with boxes filled with May Baskets! We had launched our partnership with the school at the beginning of the year. This was an amazing gift and a symbol that the partnership between our congregation and the school was taking shape. There was both mutual interest and effort to be a blessing to one another.

Three Things I received during Pastorate

Space to Become a Preacher

When I arrived, I had preached less than ten times in my entire life. The practice of weekly preaching was foreign and intimidating. This congregations has provided the opportunity to learn how to be a preacher. There are some moments in preaching where my internal monologue is wondering “What am I saying?” as I continue to preach and I have taken away 15 minutes you can’t get back in your life. Other Sundays, hopefully more, I have felt used by God to share a word of encouragement, conviction, and vision. I am grateful for space to become a preacher.

Grace Offered in My Leadership

While I like to think otherwise, I know that not every idea that I have had in ministry has been great. There have been days that I have fallen down on the job as your pastor. Throughout my time here, the overarching response to my ministry has been a willingness to follow and discover together where God is leading us. I have learned what it means to be a pastoral leader in this place. I am grateful for grace offered in my leadership.

Gray Hair

I still remember when my hairdresser noted so gracefully, “It looks like your hair is losing some of it’s color. Do you want to do anything to address that?” I said, “No.” So, here I am at the end of my time here with much less color in my hair than I had six years ago.