With the number of pastoral transitions looming on the horizon, many of our congregations will be facing what is needed when a congregation loses a pastor through resignation or retirement. Please know you are not alone! Mission Northwest stands with all our congregations during this time and provides many resources. Below you will find a sample of the first steps we strongly suggest in that journey toward the Lord’s next pastor for your congregation.

Celebrate with Thanksgiving

It is vitally important and Biblical to celebrate the departing pastor’s ministry and to say thank you (1 Tim. 5:17). This is done in two ways:

  • Informally, by inviting the pastor for meals, coffee, etc. While the friendships long established will remain, the relationship as pastor is coming to an end. These events help everyone to acknowledge this.
  • Formally, by planning for a specific time to celebrate the years of ministry the pastor and family have given to this congregation. This should be done in consultation with the pastor and family. This is best done at a time when others from outside the church family can attend. In addition, announce the event by word of mouth, by print and electronic media when and where the event will occur. If people can contribute to a gift or bring written words of thanks, include those pieces in the invitation.
    • Two suggestions for the celebration time:
      • Give people opportunity to speak their words of thanks, share stories, etc. Some churches have also arranged for those far away to make a call during the celebration and the call was put over the speaker system.
      • Make a video recording of the event to give to the pastor later.
  • It is highly recommended this event occur sometime other than the regular morning worship so that others who live elsewhere and/or attend other congregations may attend.

Gather a Search Team

If the pastor is retiring (not resigning to accept another church call), the church leadership may gather a search team while the pastor is still serving. The leadership should gather those for the team according to the church’s constitution with one additional quality:

  • select people whom the congregation respects and considers wise, spiritually mature.

The goal is to gather a group who can work as a team on behalf of the congregation and whose recommendations will be heard by the congregation as trustworthy and wise. Our materials provide guidelines for leadership as people are selected for the search team. Advice is also given for helping people decide if they are called to be on the team. It is always a good move to ask the congregation to publically affirm the search team during a worship service.

Secure an Interim 

At the leadership’s request, Mission Northwest will provide a potential interim for the leadership to interview. Guidelines for the interview would also be provided. The church leadership needs to determine who is responsible for securing the interim according to the church’s constitution. That group will interview the potential interim and make the decision. The congregation does NOT vote regarding the interim because it introduces too much confusion in the pastoral call process.

NOTE: If the church’s constitution indicates the search team secures the interim pastor, then the search team needs to be formed first. Otherwise, securing the interim needs to be done before gathering the search team.

Housing for the interim: A crucial decision needs to be made. Will the church rent an apartment/house? Alternatively, if the interim is more “local,” will overnight accommodations at a hotel with kitchenette or Airbnb be sufficient? If a rental is to be secured, housing guidelines are available.

Further Assistance

As the church moves through this time of transition to God’s next thing, your sister churches through the work of Mission Northwest are here to help. A search consultant will be available. Please contact me, Patti Duckworth, with any concerns or questions: p-duckworth@abcnw.org and 406.788.4350.