Talking About Pastoral Succession

This week’s Ministry Briefing has a cool story on successful pastoral succession:

In a series of interviews, pastors share how they have stepped out of their ministry leadership roles and appointed successors. In some cases the pastors moved onto another ministry role outside church leadership, while others moved into a leadership development role that still left the new pastor to lead without interference.

Source: Christianity Today

Why does this matter for church leaders?

I am convinced that this is going to be one of the biggest struggles that the American church faces over the next few years. As boomers retire and millennials take a more visible presence in senior leadership positions in the church, our ability to do succession well will have a huge effect on the church landscape. Here in America we traditionally struggle with filling the cathedrals of the previous generation (drive around a number of cities and see how many beautiful old church buildings are struggling to keep their doors open). I am convinced that succession is part of this. Three thoughts from this story:

  • Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Tim Keller, and YOU are getting old. There will be a day when it is time to step back from ministry. The Church is bigger than any of our individual ministries… we need to be aware of the situation we are in, understand our limitations, and be thinking about the where’s and when’s of transition. In other words, successful succession only comes when the senior leader is on board and leading the way through the process… not clinging to the position.
  • Senior Pastors need to have a clear understanding of their next steps. Whether it is remaining on staff in a different capacity, moving to another church or ministry, or fully retiring, the leader that is transitioning out needs to be clear about where they are headed, and why. It may not be perfectly mapped out, but there needs to be clarity about why they are moving on, and what their next season of ministry will look like.
  • An intentional process is essential. Churches that do succession well have a process, understand their process, and stick to their process. They have clearly communicated expectations to all parties, and keep communication channels as clear as possible.

How have YOU seen transition work successfully?

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About the Author: Matt Steen

I love Jesus, Theresa (my wife), the Redskins & Capitals, and am currently living in Waco, Texas where I am studying the finer points of BBQ (while working on my MDiv and MBA at Baylor University). When not studying, I serve church leaders through MinistryBriefing.com and am the Director of Connections for Harris Creek Baptist Church's Downtown Campus.