Five Enduring Principles that Help Us Navigate Transition and Change

Just because a church has agreed to an intentional interim process does not mean they are ready for all that goes with it. 

It takes wise and thoughtful leadership to navigate the transitional process. Healthy transitions don’t just happen but require spiritual discernment, competency and wise leadership to navigate. 

As you and I work with congregations in transition, we need to keep in mind some basics. For many of you, these ideas are not new but if you’re like me, I need reminding because I forget things.

This is your reminder of some basic principles to keep standing on as you lead and work with congregations in transition. Please send me yours to add to this list.    

Five Enduring Principles that Help Us Navigate Transition and Change

1. Communicate a Compelling Transitional Vision

 Vision comes in all sizes. There is the long term overarching vision a church needs. There’s also the shorter term transitional vision.  This is the vision you need to help get you through the valley of transition and up the other side to being healthy enough to start the pastoral search. 

Often, church leaders are eager to get to the bigger vision conversation without realizing they need a shorter term transitional vision. This shorter term vision gives a congregation the ability to slow down, embrace the season of grief and emotional turmoil before looking farther down the road for what’s next in the bigger picture.  

2. Foster Open Communication and Dialog

Regardless of past patterns of how information was shared and received, open communication and dialog keeps people from guessing and wondering what’s going on around here! People want to know what’s going on and you’re better off feeding the rumor mill with facts than letting fiction be told in a communication vacuum. 

Anxiety is higher when people are in the dark. Communication includes active listening, formal messages of all kinds, and safe appropriate places where the good, the bad, and the ugly can be shared.  

3. Empower Teams that Work and Play Together

Teamwork spreads out the ministry and gives access points for new people to get involved. Teams include elected leaders, the transition team, the staff, and volunteers of all kinds. 

Empowering teams are trained and resourced. Teams help implement the transition vision, inspire confidence and encourage the congregation to keep hope alive. 

4. Celebrate Past Achievements and Milestones 

Regardless of the kind of transition (smooth, rough or crisis), all congregations need to push pause when a senior pastor leaves. We know the History Wall is a proven tool to help people sit, reflect, celebrate, and remember. 

Whether there’s been pain or pleasure in the past, time and space are required in order to celebrate, grieve, release, re-frame, and be renewed.  

5. Educate and Involve Each Step of the Way

In this ever changing world, the need for collaborative learning is critical. Everyone has something to offer and more than ever, people need to be involved in helping shape and speak to future possibilities. 

We don’t know what we don’t know and must maintain a posture of curiosity to stay fresh and alive to what God is doing.

Education needs to be collaborative whenever possible especially if we are trying to shift thinking and behavior patterns that need to change. 

Final Thoughts

My hope is that this short article has reminded you of some key principles that are vital to healthy leadership during transition. I have so much to learn and am grateful to be able to partner with you in this kingdom work. 

  • What principle would you add to the list? 
  • What perspective have you found helpful as you coach and pastor congregations navigating change and transition? 



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