By William Vanderbloemen
When I first began researching church successions, I studied 500 pastoral successions then wrote a book about it. Here are five things I wish I would’ve known about succession before I wrote my first book.
- Conversation about succession is happening.
There’s a place for a 10-year succession plan. Maybe you don’t want to have that conversation because it will make people think you are trying to leave. It is natural to feel that way, but it is not true. It is both normal and responsible to have this conversation. I tell people that everyone is an interim pastor. There are only three ways ministry ends: either you run your church into the ground and it closes, you happen to be pastor when Jesus returns, or someone eventually succeeds you. Prepare for succession by discussing it early.
- Internal candidates can be super strong but can also be super wrong.
It is wise to be afraid of internal candidates. Hiring is an exercise in the unknown, so you may grasp for something known and think that hiring from the inside is the best idea. We all know someone who has made a hire based on a friend’s recommendation, and the hire is horrible and doesn’t fit culture. Internal candidates can be really good, but it is imperative to find an outside set of eyes to take an honest look at whether you are hiring based on safety, or if the internal candidate is actually a fit. A second set of eyes outside the hiring process can help provide clarity on internal candidates.
- No one pays attention to impact succession will have on pastor’s wife.
I’ve studied some real train wrecks. The church must realize how much it demands of a pastor’s wife. Asking a woman who has sunk roots deep, given life, and had children to leave is a hard thing to do, and oftentimes we forget how much of a difference it makes in the wife’s life. Smart churches think about the whole family and its succession.
- Overlaps actually work.
Think about Elijah and Elisha, Moses and Joshua, and other biblical succession stories. They tended to have a common culture; they followed each other around and experienced things together. Culture trumps everything. While you can teach most competencies, you cannot teach a cultural match. Use overlap time to bring someone in and assimilate them into the culture, but make sure your overlap doesn’t last much longer than two years.
- Have a plan for after you leave.
Think about doing something beyond the here and now. Be a legacy pastor that leaves a thriving ministry in your wake. I was once told that smart young leaders spend their early years creating options for their later years. Take advantage of open doors from your time as a pastor. When my grandfather was dying, I sat with him, read John 14 to him, and told him God had built a place for him in heaven. My grandfather said, “I know, I am ready. That’s the secret to everything: be ready.”
Adapted from Pipeline 2017: Succession at Every Level. To learn more about how to a leadership pipeline helps in ministry transitions and succession, check out our free Ministry Grid courses Introduction to Leadership Pipeline and Leadership Pipeline Competency Overview.