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The Change Over Zone
Successful Pastoral Transitions
By Jim Ozier, Jim Griffith
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2016 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Pastoral Leadership Is a Relay Race
Leadership is more like a baton than a trophy. You lift a trophy, but you hand off a baton.
— Bruce Miller, The Leadership Baton
I remember my first track meet like it was yesterday. Growing up in rural Illinois I was blessed with speed — lots of folks said I was "the fastest kid in Sangamon County." I was even more blessed to be invited by our junior high track coach to join the team. I admired my uniform, much too big for me but I didn't care. I was small, but I knew the speed I possessed and was confident. I looked down at my new cleats, excited and nervous about the race. In the lane to my left was the team from Illiopolis, the strong favorite, but the boys from Chatham on my right were just about as good. I knew nothing about the fourth team from Pleasant Plains, but it didn't really matter. I was fast. I knew I could beat all comers. Because of my sprinter's speed, I was chosen as a last-minute addition to the relay team. Coach had told me what I was supposed to do and I was ready to do it.
As I was sorting through all his instructions bouncing around in my brain, I couldn't wait for my teammate, Roger, to round the track on his leg of the race and hand off the baton to me. I heard his footsteps in the cinders. I was confident. I knew the drill: I looked behind me to the location next to the track where we had placed our marker. When my teammate Roger reached that spot I was supposed to spring from my starting position, accelerating into a sprint while I reached behind me, hand open, thumb down. Because Roger would already have momentum, he would catch up to me quickly, extending the baton forward, lunging toward the moment when we would actually exchange the baton. I would feel the slap of it into my hand and for a brief second we would run in tandem, his hand and mine both clinging to the baton. Slowly he would let go and fade back, and I would charge forward for the final victorious sprint of the race!
At least, that's what I was supposed to do. I didn't.
Instead, I panicked. I couldn't remember if I was supposed to slow down and let Roger catch up to me or if I was supposed to speed up. It all became jumbled: Was I supposed to extend my hand behind me or simply to my side? Palm up or palm down? I heard Roger shout, "Stick! Stick! Stick!" which is what he was coached to yell when it was time for me take the baton — but honestly, it sounded a lot like, "Stop! Stop! Stop!"
So that's what I did.
Roger's momentum carried him past me as he tried to find my hand. I did grab the baton for a split second, right before I dropped it. By the time I picked it up, sped past Roger who was partially clogging my lane, and found my stride, I was too far behind to catch up, even with my blazing speed.
After the race, I remember clutching the purple "Good Sportsmanship" ribbon as Coach walked us toward the locker room. He took the blame for inserting a new guy into the relay team, messing up its precision. At the same time he emphasized over and over to us all: "How fast you run will keep you in the race; how well you hand off will win it!"
While I didn't know it at the time, Coach Casey was teaching me one of the guiding principles of my future ministry: no matter how long the race, it's the handoff that is most important.
This book focuses primarily on that section of the pastoral transition, which happens just before and after the handoff from one pastor to another. This handoff occurs in what most track coaches refer to as the Changeover Zone.
It seeks to answer the question facing pastors and churches undergoing a transition: what are the tactics and strategies and behaviors essential to a good handoff in the Changeover Zone?
Success in the Changeover Zone
The race is about the baton, not the runners. The baton must always remain the fastest member of the squad.
— Coach Nigel Hetherinton
Casual fans of relay racing might mistakenly conclude that passing the baton is a single event that happens when one runner slaps the baton into the hand of another runner. But there is far more to it than that. In a relay race the critical moments happen in those twenty meters known as the changeover zone, where the hand off occurs, where a fast-paced series of events occurs seamlessly and results in a successful passing of the baton.
Relay racers know that their success depends on a smooth, seamless hand off. It is not simply a matter of having fast athletes; all teams possess fast runners. Beyond that, everyone on the team must know their roles, prepare for them, and be ready to execute them when the "incoming" runner moves into the changeover zone to hand off the baton to the "outgoing" runner. Teams that carefully prepare make seamless handoffs and position themselves for success; ones that don't prepare fumble the baton and no amount of natural skills can overcome the resulting failures. Coaches drill into their runners: "Get the most acceleration out of your zone! Exchange the baton at your top speed!" Great coaches with great teams know that to be successful you absolutely must have a smooth and seamless handoff. But a winning team does more than just the basics; it excels at accelerating out of the zone at top speed.
Within a mere twenty meters, both the incoming and outgoing runners are sprinting in tandem as the baton is passed. They blaze into an amazing high-speed, fast-paced ritual. The outgoing runner has been watching the race play out around the track, preparing mentally, jumping up and down to stay loose, positioning, watching, and listening for the "go, go, go" from the incoming runner.
Responding, the outgoing runner moves into place and launches into a sprint at precisely the time the incoming runner enters the changeover zone, listening for the words: "Stick! Stick! Stick!" On cue, the outgoing runner, running forward with arm extended back, receives the baton and accelerates through and out of the changeover zone.
A successful and seamless transition!
The Changeover Zone for a pastoral transition is similar. It's a length of time in which a precise set of activities take place, often at fast-paced frenetic speed, in which an amazing display of teamwork can make for a successful handoff of leadership responsibilities, and where the new pastor gets off to a running start.
Whatever the length of an actual pastoral transition, what happens during the Changeover Zone makes up the period of time in which the various participants — the pastors, church and leaders, and supervisors — execute a set of actions that have been thought out in advance (with the skills and strengths of the participants in mind), planned and prepared for, and carried out with the precision of a successful team.
Whether or not it is a planned succession, or more often, planning for a succession, every pastoral transition ends up becoming an example of passing the baton. It can be a glowing example of how to do it right or it can be a glaring example of how to do it wrong. But it becomes an example that helps set the culture of transition within any organization. So it is critical that supervisors/judicatories/pulpit committees evaluate their tactics in the Changeover Zone; whether seamless handoffs or botched ones, much can be learned and applied to future transitions.
Church culture is often revealed in words and attitudes. Note the difference when parishioners say, "We're going through a pastoral transition," as opposed to, "We're ready to charge into a time of pastoral transition!" Each statement refers to the same experience but reflects a totally different outlook. The first reflects a passive and resigned response, an unplanned event thrust upon the church, in some way of making it the victim, "Hang in there; we'll get through it." The latter response reflects a well-thought-out, predictable series of events, belying a confidence of enthusiasm, energy, and optimism that, regardless of the reasons for or timing of the pastoral change, conveys "Bring it on. This is a great opportunity for us!"
If pastors and churches are to get better at passing the baton, certainly a change of cultural mindset is required and it begins with the focused work of an entire team and what transpires in the Changeover Zone.
Since culture travels on words, the metaphors of "changeover zone" and "handoff" illustrate the various issues of pastoral transitions and communicating behaviors that lead to success in the Changeover Zone.CHAPTER 2
The Changeover Zone in the Bible
I laid a foundation ... but someone else is building on top of it.
— 1 Corinthians 3:10 CEB
Charles Harper, the mayor of Wichita Falls, Texas, tells this story: When Charles graduated from college his father pulled him aside from the family celebration for a personal father-son moment. Ceremoniously he presented Charles with the "family axe." "Son," his father said, "this is the family axe. This is the same axe my father gave me when I became a man; it is the same axe his father gave to him; and his father gave your great-great-grandfather. This is the very axe that was used to clear this land when we homesteaded here in Wichita Falls."
Charles, just graduated from college, was full of vinegar and skepticism. "You mean to tell me, Dad, that this is the very same axe my great-great-great-grandfather used to clear this land?"
Wisely, his father answered, "Well, son, over the years it has had a few different heads and a few different handles, but it is the same axe."
So it is with the kind of tradition that bears deep meaning and focuses identity. At the risk of mixing metaphors, the story of this family axe partly explains the stories found in the Bible of the baton that is passed from one leader to the next: king to king, leader to leader, pastor to pastor, each period of time recounting a historic handoff.
"Appoint someone over the community ... so that the Lord's community won't be like sheep without a shepherd" (Num 27:15-17 CEB). Sounds like a pastor doesn't it? Actually these are powerful words from Moses pleading with God to set up a leadership transition plan whose Changeover Zone required three books of the Old Testament — Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua — to detail the story of a handoff.
First of all, Moses acknowledges the reason for the handoff: "I'm 120 years old today. I can't move around well anymore" (Deut 31:2 CEB) and in so doing steps into the Changeover Zone with Joshua, his appointed successor. The reasons for a pastoral change vary greatly; they include but are not limited to: death of a pastor, retirement, mismatched pastoral situation, unhealthy churches, underperforming pastor or church, changing times, changing demographics, pastor feeling called to another situation, timing, tenure, and on and on. But whatever the reason, acknowledging it as openly and as graciously as possible is essential to build and maintain trust. Trust is the key ingredient in the relational integrity that is so critical in the Changeover Zone. Runners in the relay race trust their teammates and coaches, which enhances performance and increases the likelihood of success.
Second, to increase the odds of a smooth, seamless transition, it is important for the congregation to see their departing pastor enthusiastically and publicly endorsing the successor. Notice the pattern in Numbers 27: Moses is told in verse 18 to "lay your hand on him [Joshua]," and then in verse 19, "Place him before Eleazar the priest and the entire community and commission him before them." And in verse 20, "You will give him some of your power so that the entire Israelite community may obey" (CEB).
Third, for a smooth and seamless transition, the incoming pastor must confidently accept the baton and lead. Immediately! In Joshua we see God blessing the transfer of leadership as well as the promise of his presence with the leader: "I will be with you in the same way I was with Moses. ... I've commanded you to be brave and strong, haven't I? Don't be alarmed or terrified, because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (Josh 1:5; 9 CEB). In any transition, there will be tough times and difficult obstacles, but confidence in the ministry of the church is essential for the successor.
Accepting the baton to complete a smooth and seamless transition is possible when the successor truly seeks and sees God's hand in the transition and in the life of the church.
The Bible has many such stories of passing the baton. Because there are so many stories, there is no "one right way," rather a myriad of examples to consider. However, according to this passage, any candidate seeking to receive the baton has experienced and is living out a "call to ministry" as evidenced by the spirit of God and that spirit of God is within them. "The Lord said to Moses, 'Take Joshua, Nun's son, a man who has the spirit, and lay your hand on him'" (Num 27:18 CEB). Notice it seems to be a given that Joshua is a "man who has the spirit."
This call doesn't happen alone; it happens in the context of a community called to discern and assess the suitability of placement to a particular ministry situation. In verse 21 is that interesting phrase, "He will stand before Eleazar the priest, who will determine for him" (CEB).
It is imperative that judicatories have a prequalified pool of trained pastors to become second pastors following a founder and equally important to have trained pastors to follow long-term pastorates.
Based on the numerous biblical references to the Changeover Zone, all pastors should become students of these exchanges and the wisdom afforded. In another famous biblical transition, King David hands off leadership to Solomon. David had done great things: moved the capital to Jerusalem, restored the ark of the covenant, and began plans for a new temple.
These challenges provided a great legacy for David. However, they present a daunting task for Solomon. In David's own words: "My son Solomon, the one whom God chose, is too inexperienced for this great task" (1 Chron 29:1 CEB). So David did all he could to make the transition smooth, providing everything for the house of God as he was able.
Solomon made David's dream of the temple actually happen. As scripture reports so clearly, "Thus Solomon sat on the Lord's throne as king, succeeding his father David, and he prospered" (1 Chron 29:23 CEB).
In the next decade many pastors will retire and give way to younger, less experienced ones. God told Joshua then, "My servant Moses is dead. Now get ready to cross over the Jordan" (Josh 1:2 CEB). Just as important today, when transitions occur, God has ordained that leaders prepare themselves to step up and continue the mission of the Lord. Being ready, trained, and equipped for the transfer of leadership is paramount for the fruitfulness of God's church today.
Whether it is Elijah passing the mantle to Elisha (1 Kings 19:15-21) or Paul handing off leadership to young Timothy (1 Tim 4:11-16) or the disciples casting lots as a way to select the successor to Judas (Acts 1:12-25), the Bible records numerous instances of leadership transition. In each situation the baton is passed differently but passed nonetheless. One thing stands out: throughout redemptive history, passing the baton is one of the most critical elements of the entire biblical story, which elevates "passing the baton" to a high priority in churches facing a pastoral change.
Excerpted from The Change Over Zone by Jim Ozier, Jim Griffith. Copyright © 2016 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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