Michael Anderson's Pastoral Transition Update, September 15, 2019

Presented At The Grace Fall Picnic and “Movements of Grace” 

I am pleased to meet with all of you today to talk about Grace’s process for pastoral transition. As you know, Paul Carter recently announced his decision to retire in May of 2021.   The thinking about transition actually began earlier than that, in January 2018 at the Session’s strategic planning meeting.  It was clear then that we needed to begin developing a plan, and I was asked to serve as the point person on that effort.  It’s been informative for me to talk with church pastors and elders who have gone through the process, and to read some of the voluminous literature on the topic.  I want to talk for a few minutes about the process we have in the PCA that guides all churches in our denomination, and as well the plan that the elders at Grace have in place for our particular case.  

First, I’d like to say that we are in a fortunate position.  Many if not most churches enter a pastoral transition when their previous pastor gives them short notice of their departure, and then the church has to scramble to put a plan together.  Paul by contrast has brought this topic up for us in the Session with a long lead time, and as a result we have the benefit of being able to plan carefully even while Paul continues to shepherd us over the next 1 and ½ years. 

You may have experienced a pastoral transition in another denomination, and the PCA has its own process that may be very different from what you saw elsewhere.  The PCA does not pick our next pastor.  The Session at Grace does not pick the next pastor.  It is a congregation-driven process.  In April of 2020, God willing, the congregation at Grace will nominate, vote on, and empanel a pulpit committee, and it will be their job on behalf of the congregation to conduct the search for our next pastor.  After the conclusion of the search the committee will make a recommendation to the congregation, who will vote on whether to accept that recommendation.  A yes vote will serve as a recommendation to our presbytery, who will then examine the candidate.  With presbytery’s approval we will then have our next senior pastor.  That person would assume the pulpit within short months of Paul’s retirement.  

The Session has created a process to help the congregation create a job description for our next pastor, a document that can guide our search.  When you look at churches that have had a long-serving senior pastor as we have been so blessed, it is easy to see the how understandable errors are made. For example, they might say to the pulpit committee – go and get another (in our case) Paul Carter.  We love him and were shepherded by him and that’s what we need!, we might say.  Understandable, but you know what I mean when I say that that approach would not likely be successful.  Paul and Julie are unique and can’t be replicated.  

Instead, we need to pray and work together over the next 8 months (leading up to creating the pulpit committee in April) to create a ministry vision for Grace church.  How would God have us develop our ministries going forward?   How is the Spirit leading us to deepen our fellowship and our love for Christ?  What role will we play in reaching out to our community with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ?  By thinking and praying together we can create such a vision, and based on that we can think and plan carefully relative to our next senior pastor, and provide guidance to the pulpit committee that we will create next year.    

To do these things we will be working with a consultant, Rev. Will Spokes  who until recently was the senior pastor at Red Mountain PCA in Birmingham Al.  The purpose of hiring Will is that we might have a facilitated set of discussions.  Will has a pastor’s heart, and he has a great strategic sense.  The Session is confident that he will do a great job in helping create the conversations that we need to have.  

To see Will a bit clearer let’s look at the short version of his c.v. that we have handed out.  Our link with Will came through John Pearson; John and Will are friends based upon the ministry of RUF, and based upon that first introduction a set of conversations followed.  Will put a plan together for how he might work with us over the coming months, and that’s on the flip side of the sheet that you have. The cost estimate for Will’s work with us is approximately $8,000.  The Session reviewed his proposal and voted to accept it.  

Phase I of the work will begin shortly; Will will visit Oct 4-6 with the goal of meeting folks, coming to know us and our history.  He’ll be here to worship with us on Sunday Oct 6.  There will be meetings with various individuals and groups over the long weekend, that’s still coming together, but whether in this first weekend or in subsequent visits you will have opportunity to meet him and join the conversations.  

With that short introduction, let’s open up and have a conversation.

Michael Anderson, Elder and Clerk of Session