Pastoral Transitions: Three Opening Moves

In normal times, pastoral transitions would be difficult enough.  In pandemic times, the dynamics might be even more difficult to navigate.  But, here are three opening moves that are probably important to undertake, from our perspective:

1) In first impression, attentiveness.

First impressions, whether it is inside or outside of the church, stick around for a long time.  All other interactions are influenced by the first impression.  What’s important right now is for the new pastor to demonstrate how she can be attentive to anyone at anytime about anything.

What you are trying to earn is their confidence, if not yet their trust.  People are not wondering if the new pastor has every competency in the world; they are wondering if the new pastor can learn quickly enough about the new problems that will arise.  Show them your attentiveness.

2) In public, determination.

What will your first sermon be about?  Whatever you preach on, find a way to demonstrate your determination.


Think about the fact that millions are unemployed, there is an invisible, silent disease that has brought humanity to its knees, and all of this is on top of the usual things that local churches undergo such as the in-fighting among factions within the congregation.  What people are wondering is if this new pastor has what it takes to engage all that is transpiring within and outside of the local church.  This is your time to show them the answer is an undeniable, “yes.”

Show them your determination.

3) In leadership, clarity.

If no one from your church’s leadership team asks, the new pastor should consider bringing up what she has in mind in terms of vision for the church.

But, neither typical responses of, “I want us to collectively build a vision over time,” and, “I have a clear vision and I want everyone to follow,” will not cut it.  They are both unacceptable answers, especially in a time of transition within a time of crisis.

Be honest and articulate the reality like this, “I just got here and I am still learning about everything that has to do with our church.  But, I want you to know that I believe that we are in historic times where the practice of ministry and our leadership of it must be adaptive.  In the short term, we will have to be as stable as we can.  But, for the long term, we will have to try new things, learn as we go, and see what works.

Show them your clarity.