The Transition Pastor serves a unique role, distinct from that of Interim Pastors, church consultants and Senior Pastors. The Interim Pastor provides pastoral care and pulpit services while the Pastor Search Team seeks the next full-time Pastor. The church consultant provides diagnostic services and recommends remedial solutions that are executed by the Pastor and the church. The Transition Pastor (occasionally we refer to this as the "Intentional Interim Pastor") has a narrowly focused task: to guide the church in removing the obstacles to its God-given potential so that it is poised to move ahead quickly when a Senior Pastor is called.
The nature of his task and the brevity of his tenure occasionally requires that the Transition Pastor exercise authority greater than that typically granted the Senior Pastor.
This is why TMG insists that client congregations grant our Transition Pastors the authority to suspend the church's constitution, by-laws, policies and procedures in the event that the provisions of those documents render it impossible to solve a major obstacle that threatens the church's continued existence. Some of my colleagues have entered into employment agreements without this provision but it is a show-stopper for me.
Although the exercise of this authority is rare - and in most churches it is never used - there are a few situations that cannot be remedied without it. By way of example, dysfunctional structures and ineffective leadership may produce situations that cannot be resolved without this authority.
Let me give you an example of each.
Occasionally a client church is effectively handcuffed by dysfunctional structures that prevent remedial action. These structures may be forever enshrined in governing documents (the constitution and by-laws) or in day-to-day operations (the policies and procedures).
Thankfully, most church constitutions include provisions for its amendment. With wisdom and skill the Transition Pastor is able to bring about the needed changes by following those amendment procedures. But from time-to-time a church's constitution and by-laws are structured to permit a vocal minority to prevent meaningful change. When people come to a church's business meeting holding constitutions and by-laws filled with annotations and highlighted sections you know you're in trouble.
One dysfunctional structure that occurs with surprising frequency concerns staff pastors. It is not uncommon (unfortunately) to find church constitutions that hold the Senior Pastor (or, in our case, the Transition Pastor) responsible for the staff but deny him the authority to hire, discipline or fire them.
This is a significant dysfunctional structure that opens the door to political intrigue and creates the likelihood of significant divisions within the church and its leadership.
I coached one of our affiliates a troubled church that had been stymied for years. At the root of the problem was a leadership structure that essentially delegated the Senior Pastor to the role of a hired lackey who does the bidding of a variety of governing boards. The problem manifested as a Youth Pastor who was disrespectful, willful and disobedient of the outgoing Senior Pastor. He treated the Transition Pastor in the same fashion.
Numerous attempts to remedy this situation were stymied by a powerful, vocal minority (including a retired pastor who had written the church's constitution!) who knew how to use the governing documents to prevent meaningful change. Of course, the Youth Pastor had groomed and cultivated this minority group to stand in his corner.
The Youth Pastor was able to manipulate the loyalties of several key leaders on the Elder Board (which was subordinate to a governing board) and the governing board (which included several Elders who were in the YP's camp). Prior to inviting us to provide transition services the church had been rejected by a string of Senior Pastor candidates who recognized the situation and refused to accept the position as it was structured. When the time was right the Transition Pastor acted with great skill and wisdom. He brought the issue to a head; the Youth Pastor's forced resignation ensued.
Without the Transition Pastor's strong leadership, willingness to wade into conflict and use the full measure of his authority that church would still be locked in a death spiral.
Ineffective leaders go hand-in-hand with under performing churches; you can't have one without the other. In some cases the leadership problem is simply due to a lack of training, deployment and motivation by the outgoing Pastor. Less often ineffective leadership is a matter of people who do not meet the biblical qualifications in positions of church leadership.
The first case calls for remedial action in the form of genuine leadership development (not merely volunteer training). The second case usually calls for more direct action that may require the exercise of significant authority. An example of each case comes to mind along with a third example where both cases were found simultaneously in the same church.
An example of the first case, which calls for remedial action, stems from a recent tenure at a church whose Elders were among the most godly, devout and humble men I've ever met. Their ineffectiveness as leaders was solely due to the previous Pastor's failure to train them. An 18 month course of instruction involving formal teaching about God's mission in the world and how their church could participate therein, along with modeling of leadership behaviors and guiding them into leadership behaviors a bit at a time was all that was required. If they maintain the church will thrive.
An example of the second case comes from coaching a colleague who served as the Transition Pastor at a small, rural church. The head Elder was a godly but undiscerning gentleman who had faithfully served the church for over forty years. By virtue of his service and the respect he had earned he had become the "church boss." Unfortunately, during my colleague's tenure, this Elder fell under the influence of a cult leader who had aims on the church and the Elder's considerable real estate holdings.
This would have been a significant challenge for any Transition Pastor and this was my friend's first time! Fortunately, he was up to the task. After issuing several warnings of the danger to the Elder and to the church, the Transition Pastor exercised the authority granted to him in the employment document: he removed the Elder from his office and dealt with the fall out. In time the waters calmed, the transition process continued forward, and the church eventually called a very fine pastor who moved the congregation forward.
Wrapping it up
Given the unique nature of his ministry it is essential that the Transition Pastor have the authority to temporarily suspend the constitution and by-laws of the church. This is extraordinary, of course, it is used rarely but in some few cases this may be the church's only hope for continued survival.
In the next post I will discuss how this extraordinary authority can be conveyed in such a way that the church will have an "escape clause" that protects them from tyrannical Transition Pastors. I'll also post a couple of examples of what happens when the Transition Pastor relinquishes this as a condition of employment - the results can be ugly!