No matter how well you plan, how much time you invest, or how well you communicate to the community, church transitions are never easy.
There are a lot of reasons for this; primarily, people don’t like change. They may not like the new leadership. They may feel like they should have been involved, that there wasn’t enough time to adjust, or even that the transition dragged on too long. But, really, change is just plain difficult.
I’m not here to give you tips for a smooth succession plan. Instead, I would like to share the story of our church transition. My hope is that my experience can encourage you as you discern your own big life changes, that it helps you feel like you are not alone.
My hope is that my experience can encourage you as you discern your own big life changes, that it helps you feel like you are not alone.
Our transition began when our church’s founding pastor, Jeff, was called to plant another Vineyard in College Station, Texas. As members of the Elder team, my husband and I were invited into the transition process from the beginning. Since our church had never transitioned the Lead Pastor position, this was new territory. Jeff had a few key leaders from our community in mind for the job. After they said no, we started looking at outside hires.
During this long process, our Elder team started dreaming about what the community could look like. We started asking what it would be like to have a full volunteer staff and leadership. Leaders in the early church were tentmakers as well as ministers! Could we do that? Would it work?
A dream began to stir in me: a long-dormant desire to teach and lead in ministry. Could this be where I was meant to use those gifts? My husband, Bud, and I began to talk about pastoring. He laughed when I mentioned it and promised to be a worship leader in my church one day when we are old and retired.
The desires that were awakened in me seemed to grow as this search for new leadership continued. Jeff began to call out my teaching and leading gifts. All of a sudden he was saying, “You and Bud could totally co-lead this church.”
We had many long conversations and got a lot of prayer after that. Were we ready for this? Was God calling us sooner than we thought? We gave ourselves a firm date to make a decision. The night before the date we set, Bud and I both had prophetic dreams. Mine was of me standing on the edge of the cliff and a voice saying, “Just jump, Melody!” Bud’s was less direct but equally powerful in guiding us to say yes to God. The time was now.
When we announced the transition, people shared many words of encouragement and excitement about the direction the church was going. We also got push back and complaints.
Everyone prepared us for the growing pains. People said it was common to lose at least 10% of the community right away. Even knowing that, each time a person left it felt painful and personal. There was also the additional layer of being a woman pastor and the primary communicator on Sunday mornings. When people left because they were more concerned with my gender than with my calling, it felt even more painful and personal.
I began to lead from a place of striving. I had to prove that I was enough, that I was qualified to lead, and that I was allowed to be on that platform. No matter how hard I tried, there were some people who were just not happy with me as a woman pastor.
In the midst of the frustration, I wanted to quit. I began to ask God, “Am I really equipped for this? Do I really have what it takes to lead a church? Did you really call me to this?”
Slowly, God reminded me of the times in my life when leaders saw my gifts and lifted me up and spoke life into my dreams. He reminded me of the dream where I was called out by name to do this work.
In those times, Bud was my biggest champion. He would make sure my voice was being heard. He would intentionally step out of the way so that I was seen more clearly for who God created me to be.
I had to stop dwelling on those lies and just get on with the work God was calling me to do. I was called and God equipped me.
I began to realize there would always be those who didn’t like me. There would always be those who said I wasn’t allowed to do this work. I had to stop dwelling on those lies and just get on with the work God was calling me to do. I was called and God equipped me. Now it was time to move on.
We transitioned into the Co-lead Pastor role over three years ago. It has been the most difficult and most rewarding years of my life. I would not trade them for anything. It is amazing what happens when you embrace the call God has placed on you and just jump!
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Melody Winderweedle is the Co-Lead Pastor at Ekklesia Vineyard along with her husband Bud. They live in the beautiful Chattanooga, TN with their three children.