A More Effective Strategy for Clergy Leadership Transition
If I told you that there was a shorter, less painful, and more effective way to handle clergy leadership transitions, would you want to hear about it?
I thought so…
It would not be an understatement to say that clergy leadership transitions are not one of those experiences that most congregations look forward to. In fact, a senior warden I know once described her parish’s rector search as an AFGO (another “frigging” growth oppotunity). Another compared it to hitting his thumb with a hammer, “because it feels to good when you’re done.”
Not a surprising reaction, I suppose. Even when transitions result in a positive outcome—a leader that everyone loves—the intervening process is not entirely pleasant. First the current leader leaves, which can be rather jarring, since it often happens without much warning—a month or two at best (because nobody wants to be a lame duck leader). It can sometimes feel to the parish like a family feels when a parent has died or abandoned them. Then a interim minister is called, and that comes with its own set of issues. It’s long (the old rule of thumb is month of interim for every year the departing pastor has been with the congregation). It’s meant to shake up entrenched ways of doing things, which is jarring even when necessary and done right, but if not done well, seems like change for change’s sake: pain for no gain. Meanwhile, there’s always a lull in attendance, since congregational life feels like it’s “on hold,” but if the interim is offending too many people, it can turn into an exodus. Finally, the new leader arrives and “everyone” is happy… except for the people who aren’t. Some depart in the first month. Others, like the search committee (yes, the search committee, according to research), will leave over the next two years.
The ironic thing is, most of the transition actions described above are intentionally disruptive. Because the traditional transition model assumes that most congregations, if left to their own devices, would be so averse to change and so desperate for certainty, that they would stay stuck in their entrenched ways, cut short the search process, and make the mistake of calling a new pastor that is exactly like the departed pastor (if beloved) or exactly the opposite (if despised).[Read more…]