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2 Things You Should Never Do to the Pastor Coming Behind You

This article meditates on the legacy pastors leave behind – and the impact it has on the pastors who follow them.

Like any traveler, a pastor will leave their mark on the pastoral care landscape – and the best of them leave a place better than they found it.  With this mindset, outgoing pastors can leave behind a legacy for those who follow to build upon, rather than starting from scratch. By treading the path mindfully, departing pastors can help to ensure continuity of care for the congregants they’ve served long after they’ve moved on. The following are potential pitfalls and opportunities that outgoing pastors should look out for.

1. Don’t make promises for your successor.

When planning for the transition, resist the urge to make promises or commitments on behalf of your successor. Every spiritual leader brings their unique calling, vision, and approach to ministering the congregation. Imposing personal preference or expectations may inadvertently hamper your successor's authenticity and ability to connect genuinely with the community. Instead, embrace the spirit of trust, allowing the incoming pastor to shape their own path, while you remain a source of support in their journey.

2. Don’t leave the incoming pastor without notes on care history and milestones.

Leaving the incoming pastor without essential pastoral care notes and historical records can be like dropping them in the woods without a map or compass – they'll figure it out, but it would certainly be much easier with the tools to get their bearings. Care histories provide indispensable insight into congregants' spiritual journeys, milestones, and specific care needs and provide an valuable foundation for continuity in pastoral support. Endeavor to compile detailed records, capture key moments, ongoing projects, and care plans. These records become a treasure trove that enables the incoming pastor to seamlessly step into the role, fostering an unbroken thread of care and understanding.

Set Them Up for Success

A good traveler leaves a place better than they found it. Here are a few ways you can ensure a smooth transition for your successor as you move on to your next calling.

1. Encourage open dialogue.

Embracing pastoral succession as a dialogue rather than a one-sided departure paves the way for a smoother transition. Engage in open conversations with your successor, sharing your experiences and insights while encouraging them to articulate their vision and goals. By fostering this mutual exchange, the incoming pastor gains a deeper appreciation of the congregation's dynamics, while you as the outgoing pastor can confidently pass the baton, knowing the future is in capable hands.

2. Build a bridge by introducing your successor to the community.

Champion your successor by forging the initial connection between your successor and the congregation. Organizing opportunities for your successor to interact with the community ahead of time will foster familiarity and trust. A warm introduction instills confidence and helps ease the process of integrating into the church community and allows the trust-building process to begin before the transition is complete.

3. Be a guardian of continuity by offering support from afar.

Even as you embark on new horizons, continue to extend your support from afar. As the outgoing pastor, your wisdom and experience serve as a valuable resource for your successor. Make yourself available for consultation, answering questions, and providing guidance when needed, demonstrating a genuine commitment to the community's continued growth and well-being.

Sustaining the Legacy of Care

Outgoing pastors are uniquely positioned to ensure the next pastor succeeds. Making promises for the next pastor and leaving them with no care history notes can set the stage for broken trust and a congregation that can't move forward. Instead, outgoing pastors should consider carefully their legacy and the plan for succession. By communicating openly with the new pastor, helping them to connect with the congregation and offering continuing support during the transition period, outgoing pastors can ensure continuity of care and provide a solid foundation for their successors to build on.

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