Pastoral Transition and Succession Planning

As a church leader, one of the most critical times you’ll face is when your congregation goes through a pastoral transition or succession plan. Getting this right can set your church up for years of fruitful ministry. Get it wrong, and you may find yourself struggling through decline, loss of trust, and conflict.

That’s why I was so glad to have Nancy Moore of NL Moore and Associates on my Strong Teams podcast recently. Nancy and her team specialize in helping churches navigate these crucial leadership changes through pastoral succession planning. Through her evidence-based approach, she guides organizations to truly understand their unique church culture, challenges and needs before bringing in new pastoral leadership.

Nancy shared powerful insights from her many years of experience doing this work. A few key takeaways:

Define Your Church’s Reality

Too often, Nancy says, churches operate based on gut feelings rather than data about their actual situation. “The first job of leaders is to define reality,” she said. “We have to move from intuition to real information we can all look at.”

Her church consulting firm uses our assessments and congregational surveys to gather reliable data that paints an accurate picture of where a church truly stands – its culture, its expectations, its strengths and weaknesses. Only from this evidence-based starting point can effective decisions be made about future leadership and pastoral succession planning.

Value Unique Church Cultures

Every church has its own distinct culture shaped by its history, demographics, leadership styles, and shared values. Nancy emphasized how vital it is to thoroughly understand this church culture, not just to hire the most qualified candidate on paper.

“If you don’t have a profile that reflects the culture – those unseen factors – you could miss it every time,” she said. Using assessment tools like the ones her firm provides, Nancy works to define the right leadership style and personal characteristics to best fit a church’s particular culture and meet congregational expectations.

Look Beyond the Resume

It’s easy to get wowed by a pastor’s credentials, communication skills, or presence in an interview. But that’s not enough to ensure a good long-term fit. “These assessments give insight into how a person is truly wired by God’s design,” Nancy explained. “It helps avoid missteps of hiring someone who says the right things but whose working style clashes with the church’s needs.”

Through behavioral interviews, reference checks, assessments and more, Nancy aims to present well-rounded profiles of candidates most likely to mesh with a church community for the long haul in a pastoral role.

The numbers back up Nancy’s approach. An impressive 83% of candidates her firm has placed since 2014 are still in their pastoral roles today. And 60% of her clients return to use her church consulting services again, a testimony to the value they’ve experienced.

Action Items for Church Leaders:

  1. Gather data on your church through surveys and assessments before a pastoral transition. Don’t rely solely on anecdotes or gut feelings about your situation.
  2. Clearly define your church’s culture, values, congregational expectations and leadership needs before entering a hiring process. Use assessment tools to gain objectivity.
  3. When evaluating pastoral candidates, look beyond just resumes, interview skills and references. Utilize assessments to understand their natural leadership styles, working patterns and likely cultural fit.
  4. If going through a pastoral transition, consider partnering with experts in succession planning consulting. Their outside perspective and experience can be invaluable.
  5. Build intentional leadership development pipelines to prepare for future church successions from within. Don’t wait until a crisis to have a plan.

Navigating leadership changes will always involve an element of discernment and wise judgment. But as Nancy Moore advises, gathering evidence upfront and understanding church culture dynamics can dramatically increase your chances of making God’s best choice for your congregation’s next season of health and fruitfulness.