Date of Award

Spring 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership

First Advisor

Okpala, Comfort


This ethnographic study examined the experiences of key individuals involved in a senior leadership transition in the context of the church. Leader transition constitutes a significant aspect of organizational leadership theory, yet succession planning is often neglected in the context of churches. This study revealed that leadership transition is not a single event in the history of a church organization, but rather an evolution of events involving a multiplicity of factors and individuals. Narratives from five individuals directly involved in the pastoral leadership transition process informed the study: the search committee chair, the outgoing and incoming pastors, and two differently-located church members. The study uncovered core factors that led to a successful leader transition. First, organizational planning within the church’s bylaws pre-existed its need for a succession plan. Second, there was buy-in and commitment to the plan from the congregation as well as the committee. Third, the congregation had confidence in the committee. Fourth, the church by-laws provided roles for direct involvement of the congregants and committee members which structured regular fluid communication across both groups. Fifth, the guidance of an older, experienced interim pastor, as stipulated in the church by-laws, provided stability. The interim was not allowed to apply for the position of new pastor, and was in place early in the transition process, within two weeks of the departure of the outgoing pastor, to maintain the vision of the church and provide services to the congregation so that the selection process for the new pastor was not hurried and could proceed as it needed to. The study’s findings indicate that the church functions as both a spiritual and corporate organization, and that successful transition planning must give attention to both areas.