Pastors prepare to ‘pass the baton’ in transition workshop

By Amy Forbus


In a relay race, a runner doesn’t come to a stop to pass the baton. Instead, both the runner making the handoff and the one receiving it keep moving forward, maintaining the momentum needed to continue the race. 

Pastors moving to churches in the Northwest District gathered with their district superintendent for a selfie after the passing of the batons at the May 15 Pastors in Transition workshop. Front: the Rev. Stephen Coburn, superintendent. Second row: the Revs. Dee Harper and Roy Beth Kelley. Third row: the Revs. Clark Atkins, LaToya Shepherd and Pete Beevers. Back row: the Revs. Mike Smith and Jim Lenderman.

A successful transition in church leadership can have a lot in common with a relay race, which is why the Arkansas Conference Center for Vitality (CFV) chose to give a symbolic gift of a relay baton to every clergyperson participating in the May 15 Pastors in Transition workshop. Led by the CFV in conjunction with the bishop and cabinet, this year’s workshop focused on how clergy can plan for the changes ahead this summer as they move to new appointments. Participants considered ways to use pastoral transitions to build momentum that will propel congregations out into their mission fields to make disciples.

“Our suggestion is to use the baton in worship, such as children’s moments and liturgy, pass it around the congregation during prayer time, take it to homebound members and the youth group for prayer,” said the Rev. Blake Bradford, assistant director of the CFV. “Then, have the lay leader hand it off to the church’s new pastor.”

The 2017 workshop, held at St. James UMC in Little Rock, encouraged clergy to see their upcoming moves in alignment with the Arkansas Conference trajectory, “Creating vital congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped to transform lives, communities and the world.” The agenda included time to discuss and plan elements of transitions, and was organized by three ways clergy can experience the United Methodist connection: through Loving, Learning and Leading.

During discussion and teaching time, clergy addressed topics such as the customized information included in the appointment letter sent to each pastor and congregation experiencing a transition this summer; how each church can use demographic and statistical data to make connections to its mission field and develop new ministries; and methods for saying goodbye and hello in healthy ways.

The CFV has assembled resources on its website,, including book recommendations, links to information from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, a timeline and discussion topics for the church’s Staff-Parish Relations Committee, suggestions for church lay leadership and more—including the Pastoral Transition Covenant approved in 2014 by the clergy session of the Arkansas Conference. To view these resources, visit 

Pastors in Transition Workshop