Most of us try to prepare for retirement. We try to put at least a little something away. Unfortunately, many of us get to retirement age and realize we are not prepared to finish well. Additionally, those of us in career ministry often have made our ministry our life. The result is we are often not ready financially, personally, and even spiritually for the next step in life. We have no succession plan for ourselves or for the church.
One of my mentors, years ago, said that he wanted to die in the pulpit. In his latter years he was still being used of God in ministry and even preached at a church where I was pastor. I reminded him of his words and then said, “Don’t make it this pulpit.” One of the things I admired about him was that he was like a Caleb, strong in older years. I believe one of his strengths was that he was prepared personally, and he prepared his church after decades of ministry for his succession. He knew there was a time for the next step in life and ministry. In his mid sixties with plenty of strength he stepped aside from his church leadership and released the church he had prepared for the next step.
Rick Warren in his commendation on a book titled simply “NEXT” said, “Succession planning isn’t something people want to talk about, but it’s a looming crisis.” Having gone through that time in life to take the next step, I am thankful that we had laid some good foundations personally and for the church in preparation for the next step.
Jesus declared the words we all would like to hear when we finish our ministry.
His master said to him, ‘Well done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ Matthew 25:21
I think we all hope to hear those words one day. This desire should encourage us to prepare ourselves and our churches for the coming succession.
Being at my age, I have many of my friends in ministry who are facing the next step. Unfortunately, like Rick Warren stated, some may be facing a personal crisis and/or their churches may be facing a crisis. Some pastors struggle to let go and often cause the church to face a crisis. Realizing this has led our ministry with BBM to prepare a church consultation and coaching process that can help both the pastor and the church for a positive succession.
Some of the areas this process can help the church are:
- Providing an open format, especially for the leadership, to express expectations before it becomes a divisive discussion.
- Developing a long range plan rather than going into crisis mode.
- Recognizing the church's responsibility to provide for a pastor in retirement.
- Receiving the input from the pastor’s experience at the church and years of ministry.
- Preparing the congregation for positive transition.
Coaching for the pastor will help in areas like:
- Confiding in the coach about some of his concerns for the transition.
- Considering options that the pastor might not have considered.
- Planning options for continued ministry outside the church where he is currently pastor.
- Addressing issues with the church leadership that may be difficult or uncomfortable for the pastor.
The consulting and coaching process provides an outside source of knowledge and experience to provide counsel. Additionally, if desired, the consultant can provide valuable resources during the transition.
I am always available to begin a confidential conversation with any pastor and/or church leader about beginning a discussion on succession. By the way, I would be starting the confidential discussion at least a few years in advance.