On a recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, Tyler Staton (Lead Pastor of Bridgetown Church) joins Carey Nieuwhof to talk about his own journey of transitioning leadership, cultivating prayer rhythms that sustain through the pandemic and finding spiritual renewal amidst fatigue.
On Leadership Transitions
According to recent Barna data, congregants going through a planned leadership transition report a variety of emotions including optimism (48%), gratefulness (23%), renewed energy (22%) and also worry (20%). Incoming pastors also report this same range of emotions but at a higher level: experiencing optimism (71%), renewed energy (53%), gratefulness (47%) and worry (26%).
In discussion with Nieuwhof, Staton shares some of the ways he prepared for this emotion-filled transition. “Strategically, I read a lot of books about leading change. I read what I could about leading things that you didn’t start… I sat down with every staff member at every level of the organization at Bridgetown for an hour to learn about their story and their experience during their time here. I felt like I had some great counsel.”
Staton continues, “In my own life, I was prepared for a lot of things that haven’t happened. God’s been incredibly favorable and really kind, and Bridgetown has shown herself to be a very mature community, but I figured, ‘A decent number of people are going to leave… There’s going to be a range of emotions. I have to let that chaos happen and let it not live in my inner being. I have to love and lead the people that want to remain committed to this church into the next chapter.’
“To my utter delight, the vast majority of the congregation [has stayed], which speaks to the health of the congregation… But I was prepared in my internal world. I wasn’t worried or fearful. I was aware of both the spiritual and human dynamics at play.”
Staton also explains, “I really got to know the elders and the high level staff at Bridgetown, and I said to them plainly when I was still discerning this, ‘Are you guys in? Because if you’re not, I’m probably out, because I need you. I need you to do this well.’ I think having frank and honest conversations with the folks that I really needed, and telling them what I needed from them, was really important as well.”
On the Cultivation of Prayer
Recent Barna data show that over half of churched adults (57%) strongly agree they have seen the power of prayer through their church. The same percentage also strongly agree that their church helps them develop habits of prayer that better connect them with God.
In line with this data, Staton shares how he wants to develop his congregation’s prayer life and his church’s prayer culture. “One of my great passions is to reclaim the daily prayer rhythm that the ancient Hebrew temple, and then the early church, lived by—which was morning, midday, and evening prayer—and to do so in a very loosely liturgical way.” He continues, “If we can teach and resource our people to effectively live by a daily prayer rhythm like that, then everyone is pausing to pray through the same movements at the same time each day. It is a way in which we are united, though we might be physically separate.
“We [also] have to have times of prayer that are wild, and charismatic, and free,” Staton notes, “so that we know that prayer is both the anchor that holds and sustains us, and it is the greatest experience of intimacy with the Father that we have.”
Staton concludes, “Lastly, I think that the church’s mission needs to be propelled by prayer. What are the ways that God has called us to serve the city? I think we discover that when we pray…. We believe this [prayer] is the Spirit’s invitation to us, and we allow prayer to be the engine for mission.”
On Spiritual Renewal
Every leader knows—and Barna data backs up—that it is a challenging and tiring time to be a pastor. Staton opens up about some of the struggles leaders face, saying, “We all [feel] fatigue at chipping away at the same problems among the same people—but there is an invitation to know something of Jesus there. I think simply identifying where you have fatigue from—whether ‘this community isn’t transforming fast enough’ or whatever it may be—is important to name and be aware of in your own human psyche.”
He notes, “Hopefully, you can receive that as an invitation to intimacy with Jesus, to know his patience, shepherding and care over your own soul, and to let gratitude and compassion arise from there for the people that you serve.”
“Secondly,” Staton encourages, “I would say to consecrate yourself. I would say figure out, ‘What neutral things in my life are numbing my taste buds for God?’ … Everyone has their coping mechanisms. I would say that my experience is that when I strip myself of my coping mechanisms and say day in and day out, ‘Lord, I want to hunger for you. I want to thirst for you’, it hurts at first, but it produces joy in the end.”
About the Research
Leadership Transitions: The findings of this study are based on surveys of pastors, church staff, and churchgoing Christians. A total of 249 incoming and 70 outgoing senior pastors completed a quantitative online survey in March and April 2017. These pastors were recruited from Barna’s pastor panel (a database of pastors recruited via probability sampling on annual phone and email surveys) and are representative of U.S. Protestant churches by region, denomination and church size. All respondents were screened to include those who had been part of a senior pastoral transition in the last 5–7 years. The margin of error for incoming pastors is +/- 6.2% at the 95% confidence level and +/- 11.7% for outgoing pastors. Outgoing pastors data is primarily for comparison purposes due to small sample size. Using the same U.S. Protestant pastor panel, Barna also asked pastors to invite church staff members who had experienced a senior pastor succession in the past 5–7 years to complete a similar online survey. A total of 129 staff members qualified and completed the survey. The margin of error for church staff members is +/- 8.6% at the 95% confidence level. Finally, a sample of 1,517 church-going, self-identified Christians (18 years and older) were recruited from an online research panel. Respondents were screened to ensure they had experienced a senior pastor transition in the past 5–7 years and completed an online survey about their experience. At the 95-percent confidence level, the maximum sampling error on the practicing Christians survey is +/- 2.5%.
The State of Your Church: The research for this study consisted of an online study conducted September 16-October 4, 2021 with 1003 churched U.S. adults. The margin of error for this sample is plus or minus 2.9 percent at a 95-percent confidence level.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2022
Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.
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