Transitional pastors: Helping churches get back on mission

By Irene A. Harkleroad | Feb 22, 2022

Transitional pastors are like wilderness survival guides. They help churches identify their strengths and weaknesses, teach them how to build and empower a team that can overcome challenges, determine their purpose and destination, map out the most effective path, and walk with them until they arrive, invigorated and healthy.

“When a pastor leaves, a church may be tempted to hurry to find their next pastor,” said Keith Durham, Arizona Southern Baptist Mission Network church health facilitator. “We would like churches to seize the opportunity to really evaluate and look for ways the church can move forward and become even healthier before the next pastor arrives. It’s a natural time to revisit questions like: what are we doing, why are we doing it, where do we want to go as church. The answers to those questions help to identify what they are looking for in a new pastor.”

The transitional pastor leads the church through an intentional process of transition by defining current realities and leading the church to focus on mission in order to prepare for the next pastor.

“Churches that have gone through difficult times will benefit from having an experienced and trained transitional pastor who can help their church get to the other side of it, where there is a redemptive story and restoration of relationships,” Durham said.

Most transitional pastors are retired and trust that God can still use their ministry experience and skill sets. Transitional pastor training gives those pastors a process to help them accomplish that. That type of leader during that critical time can help the church through both common and difficult decisions that need to be made to ensure the best course of action over the following one-a-half to two years, Durham said..

The goal for the church is not to just exist but to keep moving forward during this time.

Transitional pastor training was held on Jan. 11 at the Arizona Southern Baptist Mission Network office in Phoenix. Fifteen people from around the state attended to get a better understanding of the program.

While some of the attendees are still considering if this is the right fit for them, feedback was encouraging.

“I’m ready to serve,” said Terry Wong, recently retired pastor of Northwest Chinese Baptist Church in Phoenix. “There is much more to being a transitional pastor than I expected. I like being retired, but I want to use my skills to help people.”

Mark Pitts, retired pastor Village Meadows Baptist Church in Sierra Vista, left the training with an understanding of what would be expected of a transitional pastor.

“It was important to know that a coach would be assigned right off the bat,” he said. “The brilliance of it is that an experienced pastor is going in there, but he is not going in with his own agenda. The training was very beneficial. I’m excited about the purpose behind it and encourage any church without a pastor to strongly consider this.”

”The training helped me get a feel for what a church may be facing,” said Ken Nickell, retired pastor from Crestview Community Church in Sedona. “It teaches you techniques and ideas to get to the issues in the church. Transitional pastoring is extremely important. Many churches need this kind of help.”

Transitional pastor training is available to any association that is interested in hosting one. The local associational mission strategist may contact Keith Durham at

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