I hate to break it to you, but it’s best for you to know that your next pastor will most likely ask your previous pastor a simple question: “Why did you leave?” And they should ask. Nothing worse than rowing a boat into the middle of the lake only to discover a leak. Speaking from experience, if I knew the boat (i.e., the church) had a leak, I would have never climbed into it (or gone there) in the first place.
I suggest you get ahead of that question by conducting an exit interview with your former pastor. Surprisingly, few congregations do so. Apparently, they don’t want to know why, even though he or she most-likely knows the church better than nearly everyone else. Or, worse yet, they don’t trust his or her opinion, believing it to be, not just biased, which is to be expected, but tainted beyond usefulness.
Interestingly, the apostle Paul, told one church why he left. No doubt many wanted him to stay for Paul planted the church in Ephesus during a missionary journey (Acts 18:10), then pastored the church for three years (Acts 20:31) before the Spirit led him elsewhere. Clearly, the Lord had called Paul to be an evangelist, not a resident pastor.
Of course, every pastor might offer the same reason for leaving one church for another. Might it be beneficial, however, to probe deeper? To ask, “How did the Spirit convince you?” Or, “What circumstances influenced your decision?” Or, “Would you have stayed if we did some things differently?”
Then might we be brave enough to follow up with questions like, “What actions should we take before calling your successor?” Or, “What kind of pastor do you think we should look for to succeed you?” And “How can we pray for you?”
Why such questions? Because it is likely that your former pastor knows your church better than you know it. Consequently, he or she can provide a valuable perspective as the congregation moves forward. Plus, when pastoral candidates discover during the interview process that you have completed an exit interview with your previous pastor, they will see in it a willingness to have difficult conversations, an attempt to learn more about yourself as a congregation, and an affirmation of your former pastor. In other words, an exit interview with your former pastor says a lot about you as a church.
Prayer Prompt: Lord, since friends and family know us best, grant us courage to learn their perspective in this season of transition.
ChapterNext is a pastor search and church consulting firm led by Rev. Sam Hamstra. They assist congregations through a handful of services, including staff development, weekend worship workshops, leadership retreats, congregational mergers, and ministry reviews (vision and mission statements, budgets, building renovation, and marketing plans). These services grew out of ChapterNexts’ founding purpose which is to help congregations turn the page so that they can begin writing new chapters of dynamic and life-transforming ministry.