For this week’s Whiteboard Wednesday, we have Art Wiers, who served as a Pastor for the Reformed Church for 36 years share with us about the importance of succession planning in Churches.
The matter of succession planning is not often brought up in discussions, which can be an issue for churches that are going through a transition. Because in order to conduct a smooth transition within a church ministry, it is crucial that we understand the value of succession planning. This especially applies to a pastor who has been serving over 10-15 years in a church, and is approaching retirement age. Usually this discussion is avoided and that is very unfortunate, both for the pastor and the ministry.
I have a colleague and friend who has now joined our team as a succession planning specialist. He served for 38 years in one congregation! And he spent the last five years working through a succession plan, which is now in place. It is inspiring to see a mature leader hand off the baton in a healthy ministry to the next leader so that there is no break in leadership in the church. There are many aspects of succession planning, and I will highlight three major questions in this short presentation.
The first question, especially for a pastor, is to ask, “Whose church is it?” One of the challenges of serving in a church for more than 10-15 years is that you start to think and act like the church is yours. We need to remember that the church is not ours! It was never and it never will be. And if you can have that understanding to let go, you can begin to interact in conversations that are actually helpful, especially as to what would my successor look like and what that would mean for the church. Letting go allows you to ask healthy questions that generate more energy in the ministry, instead of having everyone worry about when you’re leaving and what that means. It starts to eliminate a lot of unnecessary uncertainty and allows for expressions from leadership that are healthy.
The next question is to ask, “When is the right time to leave?” In other words, “When is my effectiveness running out and what does it mean to hand off at the right time?” Those are healthy conversations for the people who are responsible, and for the lead pastor him or herself. Many pastors who go through this process have experienced a lot of joy and fulfillment in doing so, but it does take a lot of courage and encouragement to get there.
The last question to ask is, “What are we looking for in the next leader?” Having input from the pastor in place is very valuable. If you don’t do succession planning, you almost always lose that input. As a pastor, one of the most important things to do in the midst of transition is to speak into this with the church leaders. What would they look for in the next leader? And the reality is probably somebody different from the previous pastor. Why? Because this is another new chapter of a ministry.
Succession planning is a very exciting area of ministry and we at Luminex aspire to help churches that are beginning to explore possibilities of succession planning.