Succession Planning- a key area that smart leaders are thinking about and planning for. One day your church will need a new pastor. One day your organization will need a new president. One day your charity will need a new executive director. Are you ready?
Whether you are a pastor, church staff, CEO or volunteer, you need to be thinking about the most important turning point your church or organization will have to face…who will lead when our current pastor/leader isn’t around anymore?
Many church leaders equate succession planning to retirement planning. However, smart church leaders realize that succession planning is much more than that.
I visited with my friend William Vanderbloemen who just wrote a book on the subject called Next: Pastoral Succession That Works, which is a church leader’s comprehensive guidebook to understanding what you can do now to prepare for the day your church faces a leadership transition.
Brad: Why is pastoral succession such an important issue for churches right now?
William: The big idea that drove writing this book was a single sentence I realized a few years ago: Every pastor is an interim pastor. Few pastors consider this truth, but unless they plan on leading their church after Jesus’ return, everyone in ministry will face the day when a successor takes over their church. But once you consider the inevitability of transition, and the chance a leader has to secure a legacy through a good succession, it quickly becomes the issue that smart leaders obsess over, no matter their age or stage of career.
Brad: I know many people equate succession planning with retirement planning. Is that really what succession planning is?
William: Not at all. Retirement is often only a final step in a series of pastoral successions. We found in our study that the average pastor will transition about three times in their career. Each of those transitions warrants a plan. Succession is when one senior leader intentionally transitions and hands over leadership to another. It is creating a plan for what will happen within the organization once you need a new leader, which every organization will face. Smart leaders realize that succession planning should start with pastors early in their tenure at their church. While retirement planning should be part of a healthy succession plan, a true succession plan encompasses a plan for any leadership transition reason, whether it is the pastor’s own decision, the board’s, or an unfortunate emergency situation.
Brad: What should young leaders, early on in their tenure, be thinking about now to start planning a successful succession?
William: When I was a young pastor, John Maxwell told me, “William, spend your younger years creating options for your later years.” I believe that more now than ever. The sooner you start laying out a succession plan, the more options you create for your future.
I’d particularly point young leaders to Chapter 2 of Next. It lays out “The Ten Commandments of Succession Planning,” which is a checklist of steps that young leaders need to be doing now to prepare themselves and their church for a successful leadership transition.
One of those steps is setting a healthy pace for the long run by establishing regular sabbaticals and being part of an accountability group. Too many successions happen on the heels of a moral or financial failure because the pastors were tired and didn’t have anyone to talk to about their personal fatigue.
Another step is that church leaders need to prepare an emergency envelope for what would happen if an emergency happened and the pastor couldn’t fill the pulpit on Sunday.
Check out chapter 2 of the book for all ten steps of what you should be doing now to prepare your succession plan.
Brad: Tell me more about the hundreds of interviews you and your co-author Warren Bird from Leadership Network did for research on the book. What was the most surprising trend you found?
William: Great question, Brad. It’s one that I’m asked quite a bit. There are a whole lot of surprises that we found, but two trends come to mind. First, I never realized how much of a good succession rises and falls on the outgoing pastor’s spouse. There are a number of great stories in the book that highlight this. Smart churches will pay attention to that dynamic and find ways to address it as they face transitions.
Secondly, I was shocked to see the average ages of the pastors of the largest churches in the country. There are some great infographics and tables in the book with that sort of information. Seeing it laid out in one spot convinced me that succession planning is a looming crisis for the church.
Thanks, William! This is a topic that every leader needs to start thinking, talking, even obsessing about. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us.
Order Next: Pastoral Succession That Works now at NextPastor.com for you, your church staff, and your church board.