Fall 2014

Letter From the President

Transitions Are a Test of Our Character
Dr. William J. Hamel

Transitions are never easy. I can attest to that, as I am going through one right now, having announced my retirement as president of the EFCA effective June 2015. I also watch many pastoral transitions in churches: some that are well-planned and executed and many that are not. How we handle transitions personally and congregationally is a sign of our health … or lack of health.

When it comes to pastoral transitions, I often have three words of advice for both parties:

First, to the extent that you can, plan well. One of the temptations for pastors is to stay too long and resist conversations with their board over whether it is time to go. This often results in an adversarial relationship with the board—trusted individuals who have wanted to have the conversation for some time but found it difficult. So, instead, they come to the point of defining that it is time for the pastor to leave, now. That’s not good for anyone: the pastor, the board or the congregation. Instead, start the conversation, and plan for a healthy transition.

Second, extend honor. Healthy transitions are a two-way street. Even when there have been serious differences between pastors and their staff or their board, how those differences are handled in public is a test of everyone’s graciousness and maturity. All parties should commit to honor each other and desire the best for each other. Celebrate what God has done and set the tone for the rest of the congregation as they grieve over loss and look to the future.

Finally, no matter what the circumstances of the transition, never hurt the bride of Christ. The responsibility here is on the one leaving a ministry. If we feel dishonored or treated unfairly, it is very easy to hurt the congregation on the way out by sharing our grievances, which ultimately damages the unity of the congregation. The proper place to share our thoughts is with the leaders of the church. They are the ones who need to hear. When we hurt the church on the way out, we have wounded the bride of Christ. There is never an excuse for that, yet it happens too often.

How we handle the ministry transitions that each of us will face is ultimately a test of our character, our love for the Church, and our commitment to act with integrity and maturity.