Churches shouldn’t have to choose whom to love. Congregations can’t be asked to forget the former pastor, forget where he or she led them, and how he or she cared for them. The love for the former pastor should be enshrined while the congregation falls in love with the new pastor. The congregation can love both the former and the new pastor, but these relationships have to be managed as the church moves forward.
The new pastor needs to take the church through the grieving process and help them move on to that new place in their pastoral relationship.
As the new pastor truly becomes the pastor, it is important for the congregation not to reach back. If the former pastor calls to inquire about how it is going with the church, members have to remind the pastor that he or she has moved on, and it isn’t his or her business how the church is doing. Members have to turn to the new pastor.
For example, don’t call the old pastor and ask him or her to do funerals. Call on the new pastor. As tempting as it is to fall back on that old relationship, be mindful that it isn’t fair to the former pastor or current pastor. I have observed that when the new pastor is allowed to care for members during times of grief, it helps a church move forward. When the new pastor takes up the pastoral-care function, especially during times of grief, the relationship changes, deepens, grows more intimate. Ironically, grieving for the loved one brings the new pastor and congregation together and forces them to face a new future without that person they loved. This change can also be likened to the pastoral transition itself. In many cases we lose the pastor we love, and it is as if he or she is now dead to us. In this process, churches must grieve, and the grieving process has to be led by the new pastor. He or she needs to take the church through the grieving process and help them move on to that new place in their pastoral relationship.
As the new pastor walks through the grieving process with the people, he or she will learn of their hurts, dreams, and desires. It is in the context of this new relationship that the pastor and the congregation will begin to see the future.
As the pastor walks with the people, the vision will arise. The people need to see what they are going to look like with this new pastor. How will they live without the former pastor? How will the church be different? Where is the church going? Will it survive? The people are asking how the church will make it, and vision gives them the answer. The pastor and leadership team must speak to these insecurities as they focus on caring for the congregation and tenderly walking with them to the future.
Adapted from Leading Your African American Church through Pastoral Transition by Ralph C. Watkins, copyright © 2010 by Judson Press. Used by permission of Judson Press.