Planning for church succession
Where there is no vision the people parish. – Proverbs 29:18
Much like a runner in a relay race must prepare to pass and release their baton to the next runner, a pastor must prepare for the future hand-off of their ministry to the next generation. There is so much focus and support on growing a ministry but very little for those looking to exit the full-time role of a pastoring only to find there is rarely an easy or obvious exit ramp. To achieve the desired legacy following full time ministry, a vision must be developed, planned, and executed.
Pastors understand building a legacy starts the day they are ordained and continues with every step they take in public, word they post to social media, and is scrutinized even through the behavior of their children. They should note that their legacy will ultimately hinge on the transition of the church to the next generation at some point. If a proper transition is well executed, their good name and legacy reputation live on a very long time. Unfortunately, if the transition of the church is done poorly, the desired legacy will never match reality and could be devastating both emotionally and financially.
There are often specific expectations for what ministry transitions will look like before, during, and after they have taken place. Navigating money, however, often carries multiple (potentially conflicting) expectations, and the other nuances of ministry create many opportunities for miscommunication and offense. Being intentional and planning ahead paves a peaceful pathway for both the exiting pastor’s family and the families within the church to welcome the shift to the next generation of leadership
What does an ideal succession plan for the church and its senior pastor look like?
“Begin with the end in mind.” -Stephen Covey
Beginning with the end in mind means having a vision for the future and legacy you desire to fulfill when you start the mission. Will it be passed on to a family member, associate, or merge to another ministry? This process is very impactful when adopted, but it is rarely practiced in business or ministry. A succession plan should start developing as soon as a church is established for two primary reasons. First, so the “sheep” don’t scatter, and the work can be continued. Second, to ensure the family of the pastor is provided for when the last sermon is given, regardless of when that might be.
When a succession strategy is well-planned, well-established, well-communicated and well-funded, it is a win for everyone. The key is to incentivize all parties involved by bringing them their “win” for staying supportive through the transition.
Everyone MUST win:
Win #1 - The senior pastor leaves with the financial resources for a long and fulfilling retirement.
Win #2 - The incoming pastor is equipped with the resources necessary to implement their vision for the future of the church.
Win #3 – The upcoming transition is communicated to and welcomed by the congregation.
Win #4 – The staff feels encouraged and even incentivized to stay through the transition to support the incoming pastor and their vision.
Do you already have a plan?
Senior pastors often have faith for successions to “work out” instead of having a written and well-communicated strategy. It is possible for a plan to exist mentally, but if it is not tangible or clearly defined, it may not be sufficient to provide the stability needed for such an important change.
The reality for non-denominational or independent churches, unfortunately, is that they are often financially structured in a way that ends a pastor's salary the last Sunday they are the head pastor. This leaves pastors vulnerable to the reality of walking away with nothing as soon as they are unable (perhaps due to illness or injury) to preach the next sermon, leaving behind everything they sacrificed to build in an instant. Many pastors preach well into retirement years because they simply cannot afford to retire. A recent study by Lifeway Research found that 16% of retired pastors felt disappointed, betrayed, or bitter. This is very unfortunate because it is highly avoidable with the necessary plans in place.
A huge part of passing the baton to the next generation is preparation. Putting a clear, winning succession strategy down on paper is the security pastor’s and their churches need to ensure a successful transition of leadership to the next generation.
Our team of dedicated attorneys, CPAs, consultants and advisors are experienced and specialize in church planning. To learn more about how we can help, contact us today.