Your Best Move: Effective Leadership Transition for the Local Church

Robert Kaylor, Seedbed Publishing
Reviewed by Dr. Ken Massey

Robert Kaylor has made a significant contribution to the world of transitional ministry in his book, Your Best Move. His focus is helping new pastors, and their churches, get off to a good start.

The author’s faith tradition is one of pastoral assignment. This means the book does not address some issues encountered by ministers who move as “free agents,” or churches that must negotiate an interim period. The difference between a call process and an assignment might actually be significant, but this does not mean churches and pastors with a congregational polity should pass on Kaylor’s insights. There is more than enough helpful information to make this brief and readable book a worthy investment.

Overall, I found Your Best Move to be insightful and practical. It would be a great gift for a pastor or lay leaders experiencing pastoral transition. Its central strength is guiding pastors and new churches into a process of creating a Transition Team of lay leaders who devise and work through a Transition Plan with the pastor.

The main goal of this Plan is helping pastors reach “the breakeven point.” This phrase is gleaned from a respected book on business leadership that suggests new leaders must move quickly and decisively to “the point at which the new leader has contributed as much to the organization as he or she has received from it.” This value-added language means one thing in the business world, but means something different in a congregation, though the author does not examine this contrast.
Instead, he focuses on the creation of the Plan, which should give a new pastor some “early wins.” These successes function as validation of the new pastor’s leadership and perhaps more importantly, create a positive working relationship between the pastor and the key leaders on the Transition Team.

Intuitively, I understand what Kaylor is saying. There is an eventual tipping point where a congregation, or probably more accurately, the key leadership, decides, “we (or the bishop) made a good decision.” And in my experience, he’s also correct that this unmarked threshold must be crossed in order for the new pastor to be accepted and given the support necessary to help move the congregation into the future.

The author also embraces the business notion that the window of opportunity to reach this “breakeven point” is limited. His research suggests 90 days. There has long been a disagreement about this philosophy of entry. Does one use the good energy and feelings of a new start to make important changes quickly, or does one focus first on relationships before moving into change?
Kaylor seems to lean toward the former and hedges his bets by utilizing a team of lay leaders to make it happen. He doesn’t advocate sweeping change but says limited and strategic changes can turn “neutral people into active supporters.”

The book also suggests that transitioning pastors should move to a new field with the same expectation as a missionary moving to a different culture. This could be a helpful metaphor for new pastors, especially if they are inclined to assume that the new church will be made of the same stuff as the former. Kaylor says pastors should expect something completely different in culture, style and system.

The most difficult problem with a pastoral entrance, according to Kaylor, is when the previous pastor has not left well. Even if a pastor moves away, the “ghost” of that predecessor can continue to attend meetings and influence people if there has not been healthy closure.

Kaylor offers practical suggestions for good closure, starting with a farewell letter to members stating the reason for the transition. This letter should express the changes of relationship that will take place, such as the former pastor no longer being available for weddings, funerals, etc. Another feature of the letter, which can be written by church leaders or the leaving pastor, is to outline the process that will follow to fill the position. Kaylor offers a sample letter in the appendix as well as several other resources that can be used to implement his strategies.