When you have a new pastor ...

Welcoming your first female pastor or bishop or someone of a different ethnicity is new for everyone. Remember that your pastor or bishop has been sent to lead you.
Rev. Sherry Cothran Woosley has found her “home” as pastor of West Nashville United Methodist Church. A UMNS photos by Kathleen Barry.

We are in a season of change. Pastors have been in their new churches for several months and are beginning to understand their new congregations. A presidential election is approaching in the United States. Students have returned to school.

Change is inevitable, and we respond to it in various ways.

Here are some suggestions to consider as your congregation makes the transition that accompanies a change in pastors.

Acknowledge that everyone has a different perception of change. For some, the one who left may be the only pastor they had known, or they may not understand the itinerant system of The United Methodist Church. What may seem like a major change to you may be minor to someone else. Keep this in mind as a way to manage expectations and frustration.

Welcome them. Welcoming your first female pastor or bishop or someone of a different ethnicity is new for everyone. Remember that your pastor or bishop has been sent to lead you. Be open to, and show respect for, that leadership.

If you are receiving new staff, whether it is a senior pastor or a new office administrator, as a general rule, treat them with the same regard you treated your outgoing staff, regardless of gender. The staff at The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women adds, "This includes not underestimating their experience or ability to handle difficult challenges. While the leadership style of your incoming leadership may seem different to you, different is not bad, and might even provide some new insights. Remain inquisitive about where processes that are new may lead."

Be encouraging. Often, we are quick to point out and verbalize our dislikes. It is rarely that we take a moment to express our appreciation for someone. During transitions, words of encouragement and offers of assistance go far in cultivating an atmosphere of generosity and hospitality. It is not appropriate, however, to comment on another's physical appearance (makeup, nail polish, hairstyle, legs, shoes, skirts or pants, suits or dresses).

Recall Isaiah 43:18-19a: "Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing: Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?"  . Goodbyes can be difficult for pastors, their families and the congregation they've served. Take extra measures to watch, and notice the ways God is moving in this time of transition, and give thanks. Ask: How can we be a part of this movement of the Spirit?

Acknowledge people's fears and anxieties. Pastoral transitions can induce stress and anxiety. Acknowledge this. Laity who are leaders in their churches can contribute much to a smooth transition and good beginning for the church and the newly appointed pastor. The mere act of creating space for people to voice their thoughts shows you are a leader (and a community) that wants to journey together. Whether you do it as part of your sermon, or hold a community forum, create the space for questions.

Whatever steps you take to help your church navigate it, continue to acknowledge that change is scary. Tell stories of others who have navigated change successfully – and some of those who haven't. Telling stories helps listeners see through the eyes of others. They can be an important and helpful tool during this time.

What are some helpful ways you have navigated change? What have you learned along the way? See what other Interpreter readers say on Page 16.

Sophia Agtarap is a freelance writer and media consultant living in Nashville, Tennessee.

Additional resources

"Tips for Navigating Change," University of Minnesota

A Guide to Pastoral Transitions 

Pastoral Transitions, Great Plains Conference