How to Hand Off Ministry

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13

After the Great Commandments and the Great Commission, this should be the most important “commandment” for professional church leadership. Perhaps the Great Leadership Code. The role of paid staff isn’t to “do” but to equip. To turn the laity into ministers who do the “works of service” that a church is tasked with.

Letting Go

This means getting church leaders to let go of doing many, if not most, of the tasks they tend to get caught up with. Senior Pastors shouldn’t be doing much membership care, little hospital visiting, and almost no office administration. Others could and should be busy doing that stuff.

Although we get some pushback on this recommendation, most of the time the church leaders nod in agreement – but then share the difficulty they’ve had handing off ministry. Honestly, when I explore that difficulty with them, it turns out that the act of actually letting go of ministry tends to be the key difficulty, not so much the handing off. And that’s a different issue altogether (see our book The Role of the Senior Pastor to work through this).

The reality handing off ministry doesn’t need to be all that difficult.

When I was interim at a church years ago, I told the elders I would not do any hospital visitation without an elder. The first time someone went into the hospital, the secretary told me that she couldn’t find an elder willing to go. I responded, “Well, then they won’t get a visit.” Funny thing, I had two elders suddenly get “free” and they accompanied me. I met them at the entrance and outlined what I was going to do during the visit (not sitting on the bed, standing at the foot of the bed so the patient didn’t have to turn his head to see me, asking permission to pray and to hold hands, how to pray, and the length of the vision – no more than five minutes). Then we went in and they watched while I did. After the visit, we debriefed in the hospital lobby.

About a month later, the next person went into the hospital. The secretary called the same elders and they met me at the hospital door. I explained that they would do the hospital visit and this time I would watch. They did. When we were done, we debriefed and I offered a couple of suggestions, but basically, it was clear they know what to do.

That was the last hospital visit I made that year. I asked the elders to take someone with them the next time and train them in the same way I had taught.

Notice what I didn’t do. I didn’t go to the board to get permission. I didn’t train all the elders. I just set a boundary and then leveraged that.

One last thing

When it comes to the pastor “doing” the bulletin – a task that seems to be common in many small churches – I recommend just not doing it. Period. When I do a consultation with churches like this, I announce at the recommendation session that the pastor will no longer be creating a bulletin effective immediately. If the church has screen technology, they don’t need one period – the order of service is automatically presented via the slides. And if they don’t have screen technology, all they really need is a laminated half-sheet of paper that outlines a generic order of service:

  • Welcome
  • Prayer
  • Hymn
  • Scripture Reading
  • Hymn
  • Pastoral Prayer
  • Offering
  • Communion
  • Sermon
  • Hymn
  • Prayer

This is just a sample so replace it with whatever your order looks like. Then you can just announce the hymn number, scripture, etc. from the platform.

Here’s the beauty of the pronouncement.

In literally every church I’ve ever worked with, when I said the pastor wouldn’t be doing it, if a weekly bulletin was important to the congregation, someone stepped up and said they’d do it. Not occasionally, but every single time.

Like I said, handing off isn’t that difficult – but letting go might be.