Former senior pastor George Ross and his son, Nate Ross, switch roles.
By Andy Rector
In 1999, when George Ross arrived at Northside Christian Church in New Albany, Indiana, the congregation had been without a lead pastor for 14 months. During the interim, attendance had grown 12 percent. That fact impressed upon Ross that Northside was fertile soil.
After spending more than a decade with the church, Ross was nearing retirement age, and he knew church leaders faced an important decision. What should Northside’s next step be?
“Did Northside need something different from me?” Ross said. “I talked with the elders. What should happen here? Did Northside need a change of culture?” The elders said they wanted only to build on Ross’s legacy: a welcoming church to first-time visitors. The church had grown tremendously during Ross’s tenure, both spiritually and numerically.
Northside Christian, however, had a unique opportunity. Nate Ross, George’s son, had been on the church’s staff for 10 years. Nate had eventually become the associate minister, preaching frequently and overseeing ministries. “He had already been involved in creating the culture along with me,” said the elder Ross. What would Nate look like as lead pastor?
A three-year plan unfolded; the first two years were spent discussing and preparing for the transition. George Ross told the elders, “It’s OK if I need to go, especially if the next lead minister isn’t Nate. It’s OK if the church wants to go in a different direction.” George felt the elders needed to do what was best for Northside, but he was confident in his son’s qualifications.
“Nate has made most of the changes in the last five years [that] I’ve gotten credit for. And I knew Nate and I were heading in the same direction.” Dad then added with a smile, “I’ve consulted with him since he was 4 years old.” It soon became clear Nate Ross as the senior pastor seemed the most logical, God-inspired direction.
“We hired Intentional Churches to come in and evaluate where we were,” Nate said. In May 2017 the church began implementing their suggestions: create more seats, expand the parking lot, improve the “next-steps” program, and remind the staff and congregation of the church’s values.
To prepare himself for the change, Nate joined a group of six other ministers who have transitioned within a church. He also met regularly with Northside’s staff.
The congregation was given a year’s notice, and when 2018 arrived, Nate became lead minister and his father transitioned to teaching pastor. This dual change in roles is designed to help the final part of the three-year transition unfold seamlessly.
“The transition doesn’t feel forced,” Nate said. “To keep everyone focused on the church’s mission—connecting unconnected people to Jesus—we are unveiling ways to get people even more integrated into the church community, to develop ways for people to have access to get involved more quickly.”
George joked: “A lot of people may not really know the transition happened!”
Andy Rector is a writer and graphic designer from Louisville, Kentucky.