Practical Pointers

Transition and handover

James Astleford, MSA, is a retired ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency) country director residing in Okotoks, Alberta, Canada.

It is your first day at your new place of ministry. It may be a new parish or a new leadership position. You are new, and a multitude of questions are racing around your head, demanding answers. Who is who? What is what? Where will I find the answers? What is the password to this computer? Where is the washroom?!

Information, please

Wherever you are, I expect you are wishing that more effort had been made to ensure your transition was a smooth one. You waste months trying to find out the information that someone (in particular, your predecessor) could have given you on (or before!) the first day.

Because of the lack of information, you can make honest but often catastrophic mistakes. I recall one assignment where, upon arrival, I began to ask some necessary but probing questions about previous administrative decisions. No one warned me about a power relationship that existed in my board, and consequently, my questions were deemed offensive. Had I known the facts, I could have found the answers in a more productive way.

The failure of our administrative systems to prepare for transitions and handovers must cost our organizations millions of dollars annually. Lost productivity, unnecessary worries, and many frustrations are the inevitable result. There must be a better way.

Insist on handover notes

When you are responsible, directly or indirectly, in a transfer, insist that the departing employee submit detailed notes to pass on to the next person. They should imagine all that they wished they had been told when they arrived. I would go as far as to insist that this be a requirement for receiving their final paycheck.

While the Bible is not a “management textbook,” it contains many passages that relate to leadership transfer. They are often expressed in blessings, curses, and prayers. Some examples include

  • Jacob’s last words to his sons (Gen. 48; 49)
  • Joshua’s farewell (Josh. 23; 24)
  • David’s instruction to Solomon (1 Kings 2; 1 Chron. 22; 28)
  • The tragic transition from Solomon to Rehoboam (1 Kings 12)
  • Jesus to His disciples (Matt. 16:21; 24; 28:18–20; Mark 13; John 17)
  • Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus (1 Tim.; 2 Tim.add period; Titus)

Continuity

If we are serious about our ministry, we must not only be concerned with the here and now but also consider how best to ensure the continuity of our mission. I wish I had experienced this more in my career. However, I remember with gratitude that in one of my positions, the board paid for me to return fairly soon after my successor was in place to ensure a complete transition. He found this to be a blessing, and it was very satisfying personally for me to confirm what I had already put in my handover document.

Here is a list of points to consider including in the notes you pass on to your successor:

I. Ministry in the parish

  • Geography and nearby points of interest around the parish
  • Significant points of history in the parish (how it began, building projects, outreach projects, de­velopment of philosophy, and guiding principles)
  • Membership at-a-glance
  • Schedule of services and Sabbath School classes
  • Information about board members, teachers, and leaders
  • Details of interests that the church is or wants to be involved in
  • Unresolved, ongoing issues
  • Contacts for local ministerial association
  • Arrangements with local hospitals for visitations
  • Key relationships

II. Ministry in administration

  • Location (physical/online) of files
  • Your contact details if further information is needed
  • Organizational chart
  • Details of computer (and any other equipment). Where possible, I recommend generic email addresses (e.g., [email protected]) for continuity of communication and information. It is wonderful to inherit an email account already populated with contacts, dates, conversation threads, and other pertinent information. You may also need to introduce any software products in use or provide contact information for people who can do so.
  • Security information (although this could be made available by subsequent private contact)
  • Location of meeting minutes and pertinent documents
  • Orientation to meeting/committee/board responsibilities
  • Legal obligations and deadlines
  • Ministry budget highlights and concerns
  • Travel obligations and budget
  • Position remuneration, allowances, and benefits not covered by the human resources department.
  • For international positions:
  • Cultural orientation, including dress code and other areas you need to be aware of as a foreigner.1
  • Requirements and protocols for obtaining such things as driver’s licenses, visas, bank accounts, and other necessary documents and accounts.

Whether you are going into a new position or are a supervisor of one, please make sure that the successor is equipped for success!

  1. Ideally, your denomination would have a cultural orientation program, for example, instituteofworldmission.org/.

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James Astleford, MSA, is a retired ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency) country director residing in Okotoks, Alberta, Canada.

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