Several years ago, when we began planning for Brent’s retirement, we started by researching similar Senior Pastor transitions. Our focus was on identifying the best model for our unique situation: a large church (by Canadian non evangelical standards) with a long-term Senior Pastor.
Susan Beaumont from the Alban Institute, recognized as North America’s foremost think tank for progressive churches, has done important research on this topic, and her research led us to adopt a “Phase In” model. Prior to Beaumont’s work, the most typical transition model was the “Interim Pastor” model. In this approach, the outgoing pastor would leave, an interim pastor would be chosen, and, a year or two later, a permanent Senior Pastor would be selected.
The “Interim Pastor” model proved troublesome for large churches with long-term Senior Pastors because it produced two abrupt changes in a relatively short time period. This often resulted in a loss of members and support, mainly because congregants didn’t have enough time to adjust to the new leadership. This is especially true for major supporters because of their commitment to a personal vision and direction that’s been articulated by a Senior Pastor. The abrupt change does not give enough time for close and authentic relationships to form and deepen.
The “Phase In” model addresses this problem and provides an opportunity for the community to get to know the new person before they officially assume the role of Senior Pastor. This model allows the Senior Pastor to endorse, mentor, and become the “chief cheerleader” of the incoming pastor, ensuring that they’re ready to take over after the transition period has ended. By knowing the key players, the community, and the church systems, the new Senior Pastor will be equipped with the tools required to move the congregation forward.
Finally, the “Phase In” model allows the leadership of the congregation to interact with the incoming pastor, sharing the congregation’s values, approaches and history in ways that position this individual for success. All of these reasons have led to the decision to proceed with the “Phase In” model at MCC Toronto. However, if there is an abrupt change to the office of the Senior Pastor (illness etc.), the “Interim Pastor” model could be used to give the congregation time to heal or adjust and provide an extended period that would allow our search process to continue if required.
Do you have questions or comments about our search for a new Senior Pastor?