Over the years I have played a variety of roles in crafting succession plans for pastors. These are really big deals that carry a significant amount of emotional and leadership weight. There are both brave and dangerous conversations that need to occur which is why most church leaders avoid them. However, they are also amazing opportunities to advance vision and mission at increased speed. I am a huge advocate for every church having a living and dynamic succession plan for every key staff position. Here is the reality. Every staff position will turn over multiple times in the history of the church. Let’s get ready for these opportunities before they occur.
Here are four important reasons for succession planning. I am sure there are more. Feel free to provide your insights in the comments section.
- A succession plan reminds the pastor of his stewardship of the office. All church leaders hold a ministry position for a limited time. We do not own the position, the church, or the future. We are simply stewarding the opportunity during a critical season. Every position will be handed off to the next person and that transition needs to be as smooth as possible for the sake of the kingdom.
- A succession plan prepares church leadership for the unknown. Whenever a pastor resigns or retires the first question asked is “what’s next?” There is a scurrying for the by laws that may or may not be current. Then the work begins. The process, people, and path will need to be figured out. Well meaning people are thrust into a heavy responsibility with no preparation, training, or network of support. There will be all kinds of influences that arise to affect the process both internally and externally. Many hurts await innocent people.
- A succession plan protects the church from attack. When the shepherd leaves the flock without a well trained team and plan the church is open to spiritual attack. For every healthy succession plan we hear of we can all name ten that went the opposite direction. The key role of every pastor is to be the shepherd, protector, and guide for his people. When this role is being unfulfilled the church is wide open for spiritual attack. Trust me, the enemy likes to attack us when we are most vulnerable. He is not a sympathetic opponent.
- A succession plan makes private conversations public. Previously closed doors are now open when succession is always on the table. Retiring is very emotional for the leader. Unfortunately, those emotions tend to rule the roost throughout the process. However, if years in advance we disarm the power of private fears and anxieties by having public conversations on a regular basis with a trusted team of leaders, the painful can be turned into security. Everyone wants everything to go well, so let’s create this kind of environment as normal and expected years in advance.
So pastors, you are the lead influencer in this. Every pastor needs a succession plan regardless of age or length of tenure. Every key staff position needs a succession plan as well. Let’s make this conversation a normal part of organizational leadership for the sake of the church. If we do not, the attacks that follow after our departure will be fruit no one wants to experience.
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