Lead Pastor Transition

Wednesday, May 8, 2019
Dear Church Family,

On Sunday, March 17, I announced that I plan to step down from being the Lead Pastor of Grace Church in September 2020. The following Sunday, the Ruling Elders proposed that the congregation prayerfully consider whether Paul Cronenwett should become the next Lead Pastor of the church after my retirement.

Over the following six weeks, the Elders sought the engagement of the covenant members in reflection on this proposal — through reading, praying, working through some devotionals, and attending Town Hall Meetings. People were encouraged to give an online response to the elders by April 28. Your serious consideration of the proposal was indicated by the response of 83% of our members as well as 36 non-members! The affirmation was 96% in favor of the proposal.

So, last Sunday, May 5, the Ruling Elders announced that Paul has been asked to become the next Lead Pastor of the church and has accepted the offer. We rejoiced together in affirming this decision and sealing it with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper together as a church family. It was an enriching and happy time. 

In case you were not able to be present at the worship services last Sunday, a podcast of the announcement by the Elders and of my comments following can be accessed above. Please take a few moments to listen to it so that you can rejoice in God’s guidance and care for us as a church. 

At this point, we have successfully navigated the most important and difficult part of a healthy pastoral transition: the identification of the next Lead Pastor. The work isn’t over, however. The longest part of the succession will involve a slow transition that will take place between now and our 36th Anniversary on September 13, 2020. 

Here’s a brief overview of the transition process that will take place over the next sixteen months: 

  • First Phase: Planning the Transition — May through August 2019

Over the next four months, Paul and I will work together to plan the transition. As we formulate plans, we will gain input from the Elders and staff. Finally, those plans will be approved by the Elder team, since they are ultimately responsible for it. During this time, there won’t be much public discussion about the transition. 

  • Second Phase: The Formal Transition Period — September 2019 through September 2020

From our 35th Anniversary (Sept. 8, 2019) to our 36th Anniversary (Sept. 13, 2020), we will engage in the formal leadership transition. At our Anniversary this fall, we’ll present a detailed overview of the transition plan so that everyone is aware of it. Though the plan for this transition is not in place (that’s what the first phase is for!), it will involve the following three aspects: 

    • Programming: Paul and I will work together during that period to craft the Sunday morning preaching themes, Small Group materials, and other ministry offerings to reflect a unified theme. This is a joint-mentoring process. Everyone will be aware of it. 

    • Administration: This will involve transitioning the administration and management of the church, the leadership of the Elder and Staff teams, the oversight of various ministries, and so-forth. Most of this will be behind-the-scenes and will not affect the congregation. It is, however, important that these things be passed-off.

    • Structure: This will involve any changes to the structure of the church staff and leadership teams that will need to begin in order to ‘fill the holes’ left by my departure and Paul’s leaving his position to fill mine. As with any staffing changes, the church family will be made aware of what is happening and may be asked to participate in the changes. 

  • Last Phase: Celebrating the Transition — September 13, 2020

The end of the process will take place at our 36th Anniversary on Sept. 13, 2020 when we celebrate a formal transfer of leadership from me to Paul. We have chosen to have a smaller anniversary celebration this year in order to have a ‘blow-out’ next year with a tent service, field games, and marching band (not sure yet about the marching band). 

Thank you all so much for your involvement in the process to this point. I’m excited to see what God will do over the next year as we work together as a church family to pass the torch to a new generation. 

Love in Christ,

Tom Lewellen
Lead Pastor


Downloadable Materials:
Five weeks of devotionals for Grace Church, written by Tom Lewellen
A Church Family’s Path Through Founding Pastor Transition, a dissertation paper written by Nick Martineau

Sunday, March 24, 2019
Dear Friends of Grace,

In light of Tom Lewellen’s announced retirement in September 2020, we presented a proposal today in the morning worship services. If you were not present at the meeting, we encourage you to listen to the audio recording of the entire announcement below:

Our proposal is that the covenant members prayerfully consider before God whether Paul Cronenwett should succeed Tom Lewellen as the Lead Pastor of the church after Tom’s retirement.

We could begin to search for a new pastor by looking either inside or outside of the church for candidates. After much prayer, reading, and talking we concluded that we should start the process by considering a candidate from inside our ministry. While a number of reasons for this were outlined in the announcement, there is one primary reason for this conclusion: Our church represents a ‘replication culture.’ That means we are a church whose DNA is invested in discipling people to pursue new ministry opportunities. We have often done this in the past, which has allowed us to start new churches and ministries and to send out missionaries. Church studies indicate that churches like ours should seek to hire from within if possible. 

After concluding that this is a wise direction to consider, we presented this proposal to the church staff team. During January and February, they also considered this before God and gave us their united agreement to present it to the congregation. We believe that a decision as important as this requires the careful and prayerful consideration of the whole church family — only with your affirmation will we feel free to determine whether to move in this direction or take another route.

In order to assist the congregation in engaging in this prayerful decision, we are making the following resources available: 

  • Devotionals: Five weeks of devotionals have been written by Tom Lewellen and are available for the covenant members. Those who are not members may download them by clicking here. There are also a few copies on the Information Table. 

  • Books: Two books about pastoral succession are available at the Information booth as well as a dissertation that we found helpful. There are five copies of each available — feel free to sign-out a copy and return it to the Information booth when you are finished using it. The dissertation can be downloaded by clicking here.

  • Town-Hall Meetings: The Ruling Elders will lead two town-hall style meetings in the Auditorium on Sunday, April 14 at 6:00 pm (child-care provided) and Tuesday, April 16 at 7:00 pm. At these meetings, Paul Cronenwett will present his vision for the future of the church in some detail and we will engage in dialogue about the proposal.

After the first town-hall meeting, we will post a response form online to allow those who attend the church to give their input regarding the proposal. The response window will close on Sunday, April 28 at midnight. Then, on Sunday, May 5, we will announce the decision in the morning worship services. 

We urge you to engage in this process and to give us your free and sincere feedback. 

Love in Christ,

The Ruling Elders
Bob Bell
John Connolly
Mark Moreno
Todd Westerman


Sunday, March 17, 2019

Dear Friends of Grace Church,

Today in the morning services we announced that Tom Lewellen plans to formally retire as Lead Pastor of the church in September of 2020 — the 36th Anniversary of our church. The Ruling Elders of the church will present a proposal for securing a pastor to succeed him and then, if possible, allow a 6–12 month overlap for him to work with that person to transfer responsibilities.

If you were not present at the meeting today, we encourage you to listen to the audio recording of the entire announcement at the top of this page.

This Sunday, March 24, shortened worship services will be followed by a presentation of a specific proposal for securing a lead pastor that we will ask our church, and especially our covenant members, to consider over the next six weeks. Please make every effort to be present.

We look forward to engaging in this process with you and prayerfully seeking God’s direction for our church family.

Love in Christ,

The Ruling Elders
Bob Bell
John Connolly
Mark Moreno
Todd Westerman