7 Signs It May Be The Right Time To Let Go

Karl Vaters # Faith

One year ago this month, I stopped being the lead pastor of our church.

Not because I was done, but because it was the right time.

Truth be told, I still want to be the lead pastor. At the age of 59, (58 when we made the transition) I’m not too old. I still have the passion, the heart and more than a few important things to say.

But I stepped down anyway.

Earlier than I thought I would. By maybe a decade. But it happened just when it was supposed to happen.

This weekend our church will celebrate the one year anniversary of that transition. So, as I think about all that’s happened over the last 12 months, here are 7 reasons we knew it was the right time for a pastoral transition.

1. The Church Is Strong

The reason most pastoral transitions are so dangerous is that we don’t even consider doing it until there’s a problem – usually an avalanche of problems.

It’s hard for a church to change its leadership. It’s even harder when the church is already in crisis.

It’s hard for a church to change its leadership. It’s even harder when the church is already in crisis.

Over the 26 years I’ve been at Cornerstone, we’ve learned to look around when things are good and ask,

“how can we use this time of strength and health to make the necessary changes?”

2. There’s Someone Else Capable Of Leading

Too many churches lose their best people because they’re unwilling to let them operate in their greatest area of strength.

Weak leaders are intimidated by strong leaders. Strong leaders make way for other strong leaders.

If you look around your church and you see someone else who’s capable of doing your job, don’t be afraid, be happy. You haven’t failed, you’ve succeeded.

That doesn’t mean they’ll take your position (or, as in our case, you’ll hand your position over to them) but it’s always good for the church to have a deep leadership bench.

3. The Transition Is Voluntary

Gary Garcia was my youth pastor for 25 years (yes, you read that right!) and he never wanted to be a lead pastor. Until very recently.

When he started feeling something new stirring in him about his role at Cornerstone, we had a conversation (actually, a whole lot of conversations) about what it meant for him, me and the church.

Soon, it became obvious to us and to others that it was time for him to hold the reins that I had held for 25 years.

He didn’t take those reins from me. I let them go.

Willingly. Joyfully. And, because of that, successfully.

4. The Timing Is Right

Like in a relay race, there’s a sweet spot for passing the baton.

It’s not an exact moment, but a zone.

If we start the process early we can make the needed adjustments. But if we start too late, we’re left with fewer options.

At the end of a relay race, the final runner doesn’t receive the ribbon alone. Every runner gets one. They stand together because they all did their part. Every segment of the race mattered.

But it only works if every racer hands off the baton to the next racer at the right time.

5. The Church Is Excited About Change

At Cornerstone, we’ve worked hard to create a church environment in which every contributor knows that their role matters. Including knowing when it’s their time to hand it off to someone else.

The role of lead pastor is no exception to that.

This month we celebrate an amazing year of change, transition, success, failure, attempts, experiments, losses, gains and growth – numerically, emotionally and spiritually.

The change wasn’t easy. It never is. But it can be great if we lean into it, instead of away from it.

6. A Successful Transition Is Extending, Not Ending Ministry

If you want to become irrelevant, hang on too long.

If you want to become irrelevant, hang on too long.

If you want to extend your ministry as long as possible, make smooth transitions as soon and as often as you can.

My ministry isn’t over. I’m busier, happier and more effective in ministry today than I’ve ever been.

And I’m learning more than I ever thought possible.

The church is stronger now than it was this time last year. And it will be stronger again this time next year.

And I get to participate in that.

Pastoring isn’t in my rear-view mirror. It’s an active part of every day of my life.

And it’s expanding in ways I never dreamed were possible as I get to use opportunities like this blog to speak life, hope and help into the lives of my fellow pastors, too.

7. We’re Building On, Not Starting Over

Watching someone else build on the foundation you’ve helped establish may be the most fulfilling part of life and ministry.

And participating in the continued flourishing of that ministry? It doesn’t get any better than that.