The Challenge of Transition: Session/Staff Retreat Report

By Ward Shope

I was dropping off New Life’s paper-folding machine to repair a strap that had broken. “This is a classic,” the tech said. “These things will run forever. How long have you had it?”

“I’m pretty sure it’s older than the building we’ve been in, which is over 10 years now,” I responded. “We’ve never had it serviced as far as I know.” My conservative estimate was later confirmed by Carol at the office.

“OK. I’ll replace the strap and I’ll look at the feeder wheels and some of the other parts. We’ll replace the worn ones and it will be as good as new,” he assured me. And it has been.

If it were only as easy with people… Modern machinery is made to “plug and play”. Replacement parts match the original parts, while all of the rest of the machine remains the same. Not so with communities of people. A church that loses its lead pastor, even in the smoothest of transitions, winds up replacing him with someone completely different than the pastor they lost: different gifts, different interests, different personality, and, yes, even different heights. The connections they have with the staff will be wired in a new way. The way the Session relates to the new pastor will reflect the distinctive work and leadership style that the new pastor brings to the church. What makes this even more challenging is that even as the transition takes place, the church community itself morphs and changes. There are no boilerplates when it comes to people.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t anticipate the types of changes we will go through. The staff and elders of New Life met on January 13-14 to gain understanding about who we are as Ron moves toward retirement and as Anthony moves toward taking the reins. Taking the Myers-Briggs personality inventory helped us understand better how Ron and Anthony may lead differently – and how we as a staff and a Session may need to adapt to better serve the church together. We might need to organize our work differently or take advantage of unique strengths that Anthony brings while losing Ron’s own special mix.

None of this is good or bad in itself. We are simply the instruments that God chooses to use at this particular moment of history at New Life. If we are good at recognizing how we fit together and how we need to adapt, by God’s Spirit there will be growth and fruit. But the change will go on even after years of Anthony’s leadership, just as it has under Ron’s 30 years of leadership.

What has and will remain the same is the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. This is what provides the unchanging and solid anchor for us in the unsettling waves of transition. Please pray for us as a church, for your pastors and staff, for your elders and deacons as we together seek to serve Him from now and into the future.