[dc]I[/dc]nterim and Transition Pastors both know their tenure is short. It ends when the permanent Pastor is called. Managing transitions is a key difference between them.

Interim Pastors

Interim Pastors keep continuity between permanent pastors. They may guide the church thru change but the church’s focus remains intact. The way congregants view their church’s mission is unchanged.

This is why Interim Pastors are told “Don’t change anything!”

Transition Pastors

A Transition Pastor is intentional about managing transitions. William Bridges distinguishes change from transition:

Change is situational: the move to a new site, the retirement of the founder, the reorganization of the roles on the team, the revisions to the pension plan. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological: it is a three-phase process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation that the change brings about.[1]

Transition pastors, in managing transitions, touch many systems in the church. Mission is redefined. Fresh vision emerges. Strategy is set. Programs are evaluated. Church members learn see themselves and the church in new ways. That is key. If the pastor fails to train people in new ways of thinking then changes beneficial to the church won’t last.

Change and transition must go hand-in-hand. If they don’t, the transition will fail. The trouble is, transitions encounter resistance. People naturally react to change and transition with anxiety. Unmanaged anxiety becomes infectious, upsets the entire system and then significant resistance emerges.

So what does a successful Transition Pastor look like?

Personal traits of successful Transition Pastors

  • Key Trait #1: Calm and Fearless

The Transition Pastor must remain calm in the face of resistance. He is not upset by anxiety, resistance and complaints.

  • Key Trait #2: Decisive

A Transition Pastor acts decisively – not hastily, decisively – to remove barriers to change and transition. This may require judicious use of pastoral authority. If he doesn’t have the authority or doesn’t use it the transition is likely to fail.

  • Key Trait #3: Risk taker

Anyone afraid to stick his neck out should avoid being a Transition Pastor. The transition can be risky. Interim Pastors are safer.

  • Key Trait #4: Humility

Transition Pastors encounter resistance. It may get personal. People will gossip and complain. Leaders may dig in and fight change. Constitutions and by-laws will appear at business meetings.

Repeat hourly: “It’s not about me.” It’s not. Remember that and you won’t be rattled.

  • Key Trait #5: Perseverance

Eugene Peterson defined perseverance as “long obedience in the same direction. For a Transition Pastor it will be long suffering in the same direction.

Resistance can drain your resolve. A good coach helps but you should have a track record of perseverance in the face of difficulty. If not, you should think of another vocation.

More to come

In future posts we will examine the unique skills and the common personality profile of successful Transition Pastors.

What’s your opinion?

  • Do you have the key traits of change Transition Pastors?
  • What would you add to this list?
  • What would you remove?
  • Do you know a self-assessment tool reveals these traits?

[1]:William Bridges, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, 3rd ed., (New York: Da Capo Life Long Books, 2009), p. 1