Pastoral Succession (Part 5): The Top 2 Critical Issues

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This week we continue our series on succession. If you are new to the conversation, I recommend you start with Part One.

Here is a fact:

if a succession plan fails, the majority of the time it is the fault of the senior pastor who is retiring or transitioning.

Here is another fact:

No pastor ever plans to blow up his or her church.

It is not their intention to mess up the succession plan and make it impossible for the next pastor to lead. But this happens more times than you would imagine. A once-thriving church can crumble because of a bad succession plan.

There are two critical issues that, if not addressed, will increase the likelihood of a failed succession. These are finances and identity.

Finances -- if the retiring senior pastor is not financially ready to step away from the church, it is very unlikely that he or she will be able to do so at the right time. It is important for the governing body of the church (i.e. elders, consistory, administrative council) to be helping the pastor get ready for retirement years before it is time. If this hasn’t happened, then it is important that the church provide some means of income after the transition. A pastor who is not ready financially to retire will hang on to the church way longer than is helpful to the church. Why? Because they have no other means of supporting their family.

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Identity -- Most pastors I meet, especially those who have served their church for 15+ years,  have their entire identity wrapped up in the church. It is much different than retiring from a corporate job. Work in the church intersects family, spiritual life, mission, and identity. Many pastors get to the age of 65 or 70, and they have no interests or life outside their church. It is terrifying to retire because they have no idea what they will do. They still have desire and passion and ideas--but they often lack energy.

It is very important that a church help prepare their pastor for what might be next. This might be helping them connect with a missions agency or denominational position. Perhaps they make time for him or her to pursue and build into a hobby. Maybe they help set them up to be a guest speaker or interim pastor.

If a church doesn’t tackle the identity issue with a long-time pastor, it’s likely that church will begin to decline as the pastor hangs on longer than they should.

These are the two biggest issues in a successful transition. Our team has helped hundreds of churches and pastors work through these issues and put together an effective succession plan. If we can help you, we’d love to have a conversation.

Tim StevensComment