Veteran pastors offer advice for transitions

Baptist Press
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Posted: Sep 25, 2013 4:52 PM
PLANO, Texas (BP) -- Five veteran Southern Baptist pastors shared their experiences of leading churches through times of change and pastoral transitions during a breakout session at the 2013 Send North America Conference.

Since many pastors follow prominent and long-serving pastors in their current assignments, several of the panel members urged those in a similar situation to take time to honor past leaders as they move the church forward. The discussion was part of the Pastor Leadership and Church Revitalization Track at the conference in Plano, Texas, in July.

Glynn Stone, pastor of Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview, Texas, took over for longtime pastor Laney Johnson in 2007. Throughout the transition, Stone said, he regularly tried to demonstrate his respect for Johnson -- including asking him to share during deacons meetings and publicly expressing honor in large gatherings.

"Every time I got the opportunity, I gave the man honor," Stone said. "You can say, 'You rode his coattails.' Well, there's nothing wrong with recognizing that God put you at a precipice for a reason. I could either do it arrogantly or I could do it humbly and give the man honor."

David Fleming, pastor of Champion Forrest Baptist Church in Houston, transitioned his church from mostly Caucasian to one that is effectively reaching its multicultural context. He purposely chose not to criticize the church's past or its past leaders.

"Because God has given us a vision for the future, we tend to think little of the past," Fleming said. "We sometimes demean it or belittle it or give the impression that it was wrong. It wasn't wrong. It was right perhaps for that time, but this is a new time."

Danny Wood twice took over the leadership of established churches with long prior histories. He encouraged pastors in transition periods to do four things: love the people, listen to the people, learn from the people and lead with the people.

"Whatever situation you find yourself in, if you are in a church revitalization situation, I want to encourage you to set out in expectancy for God to do something amazing. Carry the people along with you on that journey," said Wood, pastor of Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

Jonathan Falwell, who followed his famous father Jerry Falwell at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., urged attendees to honor their predecessors but also continue to move the church forward. He challenged attendees to provide bold leadership for the future.

"You are not going to be the leader that God has called you to be if all you do is manage the vision that was there before you got there," said Falwell, who moderated the breakout session. "God didn't call us to be managers, did He? He called us to be pastors and preachers and proclaimers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Alex Himaya, pastor of the Church at Battle Creek in Tulsa, Okla., re-planted the church (previously Gracemont Church) when he arrived 10 years ago. Among other issues, he shared about the disappointment that came when early supporters of his ministry within the church became critics and left.

"They're leaving you and your vision," Himaya said. "That is always hard and always devastating. How do I deal with that? Honestly, not well. I pray about it. I shed some tears about it. I quit a few times, and lets me quit, as long as I get up and go back."

Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. Learn more about church revitalization at namb.net/revitalization. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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