A Healthy Handoff: Interview with Michael LeaPosted: April 29, 2011
For Baptists Today
March 22, 2011
A Healthy Handoff: The Crucial Relationship between Former and Current Pastor
Interview with Michael Lea, Pastor, First Baptist Church, West Jefferson, NC
1. When the former pastor’s name is brought up, what do you say?
- “Ken Morris, he’s great isn’t he. I love Ken. He has been a great mentor, friend, and support to me. I can’t imagine ministry and life here without him.”
2. How have you helped your predecessor and the congregation set healthy boundaries around their relationships?
- First and foremost, Ken laid the groundwork by providing a model for healthy boundaries. Some healthy boundaries were already in place when I got here. Secondly, in the interview process, I quizzed the Pastor Search Committee on Ken and how they imagined the transition working out, and even how they imagined life after the transition. I also met with Ken before I accepted the call here, both on the phone and then in person. After our phone conversation and then that first meeting in person, I knew things were going to be ok. Since then, Ken and I have worked together openly about each of our roles and tried to set an example as a team as to the boundaries that we feel are healthy for everyone. The key I think is trust and open communication. I trust Ken and he trusts me. That trust also extends to the congregation. People see that trust and I think that helps.
3. How are you able to share pastoring duties? Have you invited him into your ministry?
- I believe we have shared them quite well. We have officiated quite a number of funerals together. Many of the people and families in our congregation have been members of this church long enough that they have a rich history with Ken, so they want Ken to be involved in events like funerals and weddings. At the same time, the church has been open to my leadership from the very beginning. Ken has provided a great deal of leadership here by saying to people “Michael is our Pastor now; let’s ask him or look to him for leadership in this time.”
- From day one, I invited Ken in, but the invitation works both ways. Ken invited me in and helped me, especially in that first year. I asked him to go visit people with me quite often in those first several months. I also don’t like the phrase “my/your ministry.” It’s not my ministry. Its Christ’s ministry, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, it’s the church’s ministry. As Paul says in Phillipians 1:3,5 “I thank my God every time I remember you…because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now”. I believe as long as we approach ministry in this way, maintaining and embodying the philosophy that we have this ministry together, that we are called to a sharing in the gospel ministry of God, then I think the invitation is always there for us to do what we feel God is leading us to do instead of becoming possessive and territorial about the landscape of ministry. Ken and I as well as the church share that philosophy; and I believe that has made all the difference in a healthy sharing in pastoral duties.
4. What have you learned from your predecessor about leaving well?
- Grace and humility in leaving. Ken has shown a great deal of both in his transition from Pastor to Pastor Emeritus.
- Show support and confidence in the church and in the new pastor and/or pastoral staff in moving forward.
- The life of the Pastor is never really over, until life itself is over. At the same time, I have learned from him how to live into a new role well.
5. What tips would you pass along to an incoming minister?
- Be open.
- Don’t be territorial, i.e. know that it is Christ’s ministry through the church and not “your/my ministry”.
- Be respectful of and sensitive to the history and culture of the church. In other words, know what you are walking into.
- Leave your ego at the door.
6. What is the key to a successful transition?
- Respect for and genuine interest in the story/stories into which we are entering. Respect for the ones who have come before you, no matter what kind of job they did. In my case, Ken has provided great leadership and helped provide a healthy church for me to help lead.
- Working hard at the relationships and dynamics of the situation in which you are placed. Ultimately, if everyone works together, then you have a chance at being successful. If one person or group of people in the transition decides not to work together, then I imagine you are going to have problems. Its hard work and you have to be consistent in this work.
- Building trust with former pastor, new pastor, and congregation.
- Openness to people’s requests and respect for their history with the former pastor as well as recognition of the new relationship being built with the new or current pastor.
- Time and patience.
Read the full article A Healthy Handoff.