Completing the Handoff
From the standpoint of the spectator, relay races are won on the strength and speed of the various runners. Yet in reality, they are frequently lost during the handoff of the baton. For that reason, coaches may spend more time coordinating that move than on showing their athletes how to run.
Gifted pastors are like gifted runners: They may excel at what they are trained to do, but how many are naturally equipped to navigate the complexities of a pastoral handoff? It would be hard enough if this were merely a transition of two pastors. Instead, whole congregations are involved.
In some ways, one of the toughest parts of planning for our pastoral transition was starting the discussion. My name is Tom Beaman, and after 20-plus years serving as senior pastor at Grace EFC in Longmont, Colo., there was a comfortable flow to how the church was operating. No one wanted to focus on fixing something that wasn’t broken. But I could sense God preparing to shift us into another gear, and I knew we had to prepare.
My predecessor at Grace EFC had been a strong leader, filled with wisdom from his 40 years in the pastorate. He passed the baton to me with a steady hand and an unambiguous release. As I approached my own retirement, I knew that the congregation needed nothing less.
Here are some reflections on how we prepared for that transition, followed by impressions from the next senior pastor.
I began by raising the issue (in strict confidence) with the elder board, approximately two years prior to my expected departure. Our discussions led to much prayer, followed by strategic planning. We decided that six months’ notice for the congregation was appropriate. Before that announcement in September 2011, the elders prepared a draft for congregational approval, detailing qualifications for the next senior pastor and various policy issues. The intent was to anticipate as many of the necessary details as possible.
Subsequently, we arranged many opportunities for questions to be asked and answered, fears and objections to be expressed and received, and for the congregation to become involved in the process. The congregation then authorized them to find an interim pastor candidate.
The interim pastor began his ministry two months before I ended my own. During those weeks, we gradually increased his role and areas of responsibility while decreasing mine. He and I also alternated preaching through a series in Acts. During that time, the congregation selected a search committee, who then began a prayerful and methodical process.
In all of these procedures, we deliberately allowed for enough time—time to settle hearts, time to clarify vision and time to listen carefully to God—without letting the process stall or stagnate.
Explain the why
Our shared values showed that I wasn’t a threat and that we could all change together and on purpose.
I was welcomed with love and excitement, but I knew that the honeymoon period would end and the unspoken dance of control and resistance would begin. I resolved to spend the first 12 months in the pulpit on big-picture ideas and values. I focused on the why of ministry instead of changing any of the what or how.
Thanks to the hard work Tom had done to prepare the congregation, we all realized how much we already had in common and that we could be excited about where we are heading. Our shared values showed that I wasn’t a threat and that we could all change together and on purpose.
I knew that any trust or influence I would have at Grace would not come from my ministry skills, my title or even how I compare to Tom. It would only come by getting to know the people personally, caring for them and investing in them. I took the elders out to lunch one by one. I sat in on missions, finance and women’s board meetings to network, watch and ask questions. I intentionally added more personally vulnerable stories to my sermons. Basically, I took the initiative to make a personal connection with as many key people as I could, and to publicly let the congregation know that I consider all ministry to be relational at its core.
Not every pastor gets handed a loving, healthy church full of disciples like I did at Grace EFC. I am immensely grateful and don’t take a minute of it for granted. I was able to hit the ground running because of the groundwork Tom and the leadership had laid, as well as how God had prepared me in my life in ministry. I’m excited to press on to the next stretch of track God has for us at Grace Church.
Tom Beaman spent 12 years in the concert sound business before coming to faith in Jesus and attending Denver Seminary. He served Grace EFC in a part-time role for two years before being called as senior pastor in 1991. Today, Tom is retired and writes a devotional blog called Freshbreadoflife.com. He and his wife, Ann Maree, have two children and three grandchildren.
Jeff Foote is a second-generation EFCA pastor, district chairman for the Rocky Mountain District and former church-planting coach. He spent some time as a professional musician and has written songs that are sung in churches worldwide. He and his wife, Abby, have three children.