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Changes In Leadership...On Steroids!

Updated: Sep 8, 2020


Pastor Pat McGuffin

Freedom Fellowship Church, Florida

Imagine being the next lead pastor, preceded by a 28-year founding church pastor named Joe Warner. Already sound hard? Did I forget to throw into the story that the world shut down with a pandemic, causing churches, businesses, and organizations to stop meeting within 6 weeks of the leadership transition? Now that makes the process not only hard, but complicated!

Here are a few highlights from what I have learned about making a successful church leadership transition.

First, don’t try to match your predecessor on his turf. My puns don’t work like Pastor Joe’s jokes, and my style of leadership is totally different. Bottom line: Be yourself in how God uniquely wired you. 

I had about three months’ notice that this transition was going to happen, and I worked closely with Pastor Joe and our overseer Keith Tucci on the big issues--selecting new elders, helping the church family know about and accept the transition, and timetables. (Our church only had Pastor Joe and me as elders at the time, so that also helped by having a totally clean slate to build new eldership from.) 

We told key leaders about the transition ahead of announcing it to the whole church. That worked well, even though some felt they should have been told ahead of that announcement. After the big announcement to the whole church by Pastor Joe on one Sunday, I preached the next one, giving everyone a brief outline of my vision going forward, which was timely, from what was said by others later. (I spent a month preaching and breaking down my four vision points after being set in as lead pastor.) It seemed the church was good with me being chosen as lead pastor, in that I had been in the church 20 years (and an elder/pastor for 16 of those years), and the new elders were well-received as tested men of wisdom, the Holy Spirit, and faithful experience in our church.

During the transition, Pastor Joe gave me space to work with my own team but was a great resource in helping to evaluate putting the right people in the right place. Two new elders were chosen within a month (one in his 60’s and one in his late 30’s) and we started meeting immediately on key details. We had a mini retreat for our elders and wives before being officially set-in, where we spent a day sharing and nailing down expanded vision and key prioritized strategies to move forward.

Yes, we lost a few families that apparently had closer allegiance to Pastor Joe than to their other brothers and sisters in the church. But we had several new families join the church right before the pandemic hit. 

It probably helped with the transition that Pastor Joe moved out of state, enabling our new team to find its own path, but he was always available for insight by phone. We were also the sending church and chief supporter of Pastor Joe going out, as he took his traveling ministry to a new level. So people still feel connected to him.

Our new leadership was tested when the church had to move exclusively to online services for a couple of months, but everyone pulled together. Finances, by God’s grace, stayed steady during that time. Currently, about two-thirds of the church attends in person and the other one-third attends Sunday services online. We leverage Zoom for other meetings to help stay as connected as possible, and we make a ton of phone calls to further stay connected.

God has carried Freedom Fellowship through this transition and has prepared us to make the next leap forward under new leadership. At the same time, we were able to help launch Pastor Joe’s ministry to a greater level. It’s a Kingdom win all around.

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