A Catalyst for Senior Pastoral Leadership

By Keon A. Gerow (Missio DMin candidate) and Dr. Sean Wise (Missio MDiv ’10, DMin ’16)

Pastor Keon Gerow:

I remember it like it was yesterday.  A small group of relentless, dedicated believers converged to initiate what is now known as Catalyst Church.  September 7, 2008 was the start of a journey that none of us really knew where it would lead.

I have to admit, I really did not want to be a church planter.  I was serving at a church in Mt. Airy and was totally comfortable as an Associate.  The responsibilities were appropriate and I thoroughly enjoyed the faith community that had come to be known as my extended family.  I fought and bemoaned until I came to the sobering reality that God’s will was much better than mine.  With much prayer, we forged ahead and God breathed on what was then Catalyst for Change Church.

After 13yrs of serving Catalyst as founder and senior pastor, having been led of the Lord, and with full support of the Catalyst Church Board of Directors, I passed on the baton of leadership this past August.  This was a different paradigm than what has been presented in many African American church contexts.  Regrettably, this progressive model of pastoral transition is diametrically opposed to the longstanding held beliefs of many in the tradition from which I am formed.  I grew up with a birds-eye view of senior pastors that either were forced out due to scandal or literally died in old age still serving as the leader of a flock.  A more sustainable model was necessary for the health of the church and that clergy member leading the church.  As a result, the Catalyst board began succession planning and made the decision to onboard Dr. Sean Wise as the Executive Pastor to assist in leading the church whom would ultimately serve as Interim Pastor.

Left: Keon A. Gerow, Right: Dr. Sean Wise

Dr. Sean Wise:

I humbly accepted the assignment as executive pastor. Pastor Gerow, being a friend, shared with me his intentions and I had much concern, trepidation, and reluctance. However, with much encouragement from Pastor Gerow, I set out to serve primarily as the executive pastor. I found this strategy for transition much more in keeping with biblical models. For one, serving as a support to pastor Gerow for a period of over a year allowed time to learn the culture of the church, the traditions, build relationships, and have room to grow. I would preach for him twice a month, train leaders, and oversee all aspects of ministry. I believe it is important that a pastor spend time getting to know people, understanding the history, traditions, and culture of a church before receiving the pastoral mantel. This proved to be very advantageous in helping the people to transition through the departure.  Resignations are never easy, especially for a beloved pastor and church, but this method just made sense. However, I still had my reluctance. A leader such as Pastor Gerow had made a significant impact on this church and community, and thus it would not be easy to step in such big shoes.

I think the biggest lesson to be learned about this transition is that it was relationship-driven, and not simply a ‘find a leader to put in place.’ Pastor Gerow and I, because we were friends, and are friends, have been able to spend hours discussing roles, history, relationships, vision, strategies, and challenges of pastoring. Pastor Gerow was able to mentor the one who would take the next steps. This is critical. For our success, we believed that it was important to take the time to secure strong relationships before Pastor Gerow transitioned from the church. I am honored to serve Catalyst Church because the transition has been executed with sensitivity and wisdom.