Like it or not, every church, including yours, will eventually lose its senior pastor.
(sometimes all of the above)
Life happens to all of us, including pastors.
We all know this, yet very few of us ever really plan for it. This is especially true in our African-American churches. We have a long and unfortunate history of dropping the ball when it comes to succession planning.
I recently spoke with a young associate pastor who is dealing with this situation.
“The Pastor is gone …”
Those are the words he heard on the other end of the phone call early one morning.
His beloved friend and senior pastor had unexpectedly passed away.
His church wasn’t prepared.
With no clear succession plan, a long, nasty fight for power began amongst the leadership. Factions formed. Members left. Associate pastors started their own churches. What remains is a shell of a once great ministry.
So, what would happen if you got that phone call?
Or, if you are the pastor, what will happen to your spouse? Will “they” take care of your family when you’re gone? What about life after ministry?
Will you be paid retirement benefits?
Would you be paid in the event of a long-term illness?
If so, how much? For how long?
What is Succession Planning?
Succession planning is that thing we all know we need to do but never get around to doing. Good succession plans include clear instructions and plans for things like:
Interim Pastor Process
Selection Process of New Pastor
Leadership Team Transition
Retirement Pay & Benefits for Pastor
Death Benefit for Spouse in the Event of Pastor’s Death
Pay & Benefits to Pastor in the Event of Long-Term Illness
And so much more
Unfortunately, most churches fail to have these important conversations even at the most basic level, i.e. “Who will take over should something happen to the pastor?”
In my travels around the USA working with churches, I’ve found succession planning to be like the proverbial “elephant in the room” that everyone sees but pretends it’s not there. And since no one is talking, no one is planning. But life still happens.
5 Reasons Why Pastoral Successions Fail
1. Pastors Won’t Let Go.
Many pastors step down but then stay—or let their spouse, children, or other relatives take over. They micromanage, typically allowing their presence to remain in the ministry.
2. Pastors Stay Too Long.
Many long-standing pastors stay well beyond the church’s best days, watching the church decline year after year, yet they will not let go, thinking every year will see a turnaround. The successor then inherits many challenges.
3. Power Struggles Within the Ministry.
Power struggles are often fueled by the leaders who feel that they should be the next pastor. After the many years of decline, the “winner” normally has little remaining to work with.
4. Too Many Changes With the Incoming Pastor.
The incoming pastor is given a mandate for change but moves far faster than the culture of the church is able to shift. Aggressive cultural ministry changes will lead to church failure.
5. New Pastor Discovers Hidden Issues.
Many successors have uncovered moral issues, huge debt, badly conflicted leaders, or other toxic issues that explode with a new pastor.
The Apostle Paul on Succession Planning
Paul had ministry sons, like Timothy and Titus, whom he had trained for this very purpose. He knew that he was going to be killed one day, so he trained them up. Evidence is found in the letters he wrote to them. For example, to Titus, he writes:
“I left you behind in Crete for this reason, that you should put in order what needs to be done and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you…” (Titus 1: 5)
Paul had a succession plan!
So, what is your succession plan? Will it set the ministry up to thrive for years to come? Does it make provisions to provide for you and your spouse in health, sickness, or death?
If you would like a blueprint for a good, 21st Century Succession Plan, click here.