Next by William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird

William Vanderbloemen leads the top search firm in the U.S. for connecting churches and pastors. Warren Bird is a top researcher and writer with Leadership Network. They have the skills to write this book and they have given the church a great gift in this excellent, insightful overview of pastoral succession that works. I highly recommend it for every pastor and governing board, not just for those who are thinking about transition, but especially for those who are thinking about transition. Here are some highlights.

  1. The board’s single most important contribution is the selection of the organization’s leader. This task is actually more important than all the other tasks of the board put together.
  1. Every pastor is an interim pastor.
  1. Planning for succession may be the biggest leadership task you and your church will ever face. And the most important. Unfortunately, everyone wants to talk about succession until it is their own succession!
  1. Healthy succession is more art than science. Planning and details need to be tailored to each situation. It also is a matter of prayer and God’s leading.
  1. The time to begin thinking about pastoral succession is now. Every pastor, whether old or new, should start planning today for succession.
  1. Leaders understand that there is no success without a successor.
  1. Here are a few common denominators in succession:
  • The process will be messy.
  • Your process will be unpredictable in ways that predecessors, successors, leadership boards and congregations do not fully anticipate.
  • It won’t take the amount of time you think. Some successions take longer than planned, while a few move more quickly.
  • The process will almost always be healthier and more effective if an objective third party speaks into the process.
  • Pastoral transition is not over when a new pastor’s tenure officially begins. The complete process typically takes 2-3 years after that point.
  • Here are 10 commandments for succession:
  • Read this book with others. The board should read it.
    1. Set a healthy pace for the long run. This should include a sabbatical policy. The most common practice is a paid three-month break every seven years. A multi-staff church should include other staff in the policy.
    2. Prepare an emergency envelope for if the pastor suddenly dies. Who is in charge the first few hours after the pastor dies? Who would preach the first few Sundays? Who would carry out other key duties? Write the plan down and have your board approve it.
    3. Develop a plan for non-emergency, but unforeseen departure.
    4. Anticipate your retirement eventually. Prepare for it.
    5. Annually evaluate the state of your succession plan.
    6. Create a broad culture of leadership development in the church. This will help develop future successors.
    7. Share the teaching load in the church.
    8. Share the leading.
    9. Look beyond the baton pass to what you, the senior pastor, would do after transition.
  1. Three essential questions for senior pastors before their succession:
    1. What is succession success?
    2. What captures my passions?
    3. What is my financial need?
  1. The best succession typically occurs when the outgoing pastor has lined up a new challenge and is excited about what lies ahead.
  1. The average senior pastor in the U.S. stays 7.7 years. The larger the church, the longer they are likely to stay.
  1. If you do stay at the church where you pastored after succession, then you will probably need:
    1. Clear agreement on your successor on what is appropriate and inappropriate.'
    2. A quarterly check-in to be sure things are going OK.
    3. A specific ministry niche for the outgoing pastor. It is not enough just to say “I will help out wherever needed.”
    4. The plan in writing.
    5. A long clarifying talk with your spouse and family.
  1. Assess what kind of church leadership culture you have. Is the pastor the key administrator? The chief of chiefs? The executive? Or the king?
  1. Succession from first generation leadership to second generation leaders are the least likely to go well. Often the outgoing founding pastor is the problem.
  1. Sometimes founding senior pastors are unwilling to face the sense of emotional loss. Or they hope they can do it all over again. Or they fear that what they have done will be lost by the next person. Or they have a fear of the unknown. Or they are waiting for just the right potential successor and they haven’t found him yet. Or they enjoy the comfort level that they have achieved.
  2. Senior pastors should annually review these three hard questions"
    1. “Have I stayed too long?”
    2. “Am I still the leader this ministry needs?”
    3. “Should my church have a mandatory retirement age?”
  1. Seven surprises about succession:
    1. God is in control and can transform even the most challenging situations into kingdom gain.
    2. Nearly everything rides on the back of the outgoing senior pastor.
    3. New pastors should not dismiss the leadership and staff they’ve inherited before taking a long look at them for the future.
    4. A perfect state is not required.
    5. Succession might involve not calling a new senior pastor.
    6. All successions are unique.
    7. By-laws about your incoming pastor should reflect qualities that your incoming pastor must have, not your desires.
  1. Lessons learned from the Crystal Cathedral story
    1. Every church is only one generation away from extinction
    2. Today’s success formulas may poison tomorrow’s succession.
    3. High control people have a hard time letting go.
    4. Hard conversations about succession often need to be scheduled in advance.
  2. Succession conversations should start sooner than most would guess.
    1. Senior pastors should spend more time developing the strength of their bench to create potential leadership pipeline for every major leadership position within the church.
    2. Succession typically takes longer than most would guess.
    3. The more visible the church, the more care should be given to public communication.
  3. Succession lessons learned from First Baptist, Dallas
    1. Talking about succession is a lot easier than actually doing it.
    2. Outgoing pastors must decrease so that incoming pastors can increase.
    3. Pay attention to the outgoing spouse.
    4. Written covenants trump verbal intentions.
    5. Everything rises and falls on the outgoing pastor
  4. Should you hire an interim pastor? Consider the following seven factors:
    1. Will you be able to fill your pulpit with a quality message week after week?
    2. Does your church historically do well between pastors?
    3. Does your church have a new way of handling both the administrative and leadership development needs to go forward?
    4. Can your congregation capably form and process a search team?
    5. Was your former pastor with you for fewer than 10 years?
    6. Did your former pastor leave in a way that allowed you to process the farewell and the first steps of planning?
    7. Did your pastor’s term end with an absence of turmoil?
    8. The more “No” answers to these questions, the more advisable it is to find an interim pastor.
  5. People will remember how you leave long after they forget what you did while you were there.
  6. The average age difference between the outgoing pastor and the incoming successor in a sample of 100 famous pastor successions was 22 years.
  7. The internal candidates are often the best matches. First look within your church family – not just the immediate congregation, but folks who have served in your congregation before. If multi-site, give consideration to campus pastor.
  8. Here are some candidates to probably avoid:
    1. Someone who served at a great church but has a poor track record in other churches.
    2. Your best friend on the assumption that your friendship means a good DNA match?
    3. A pastor who served several churches, none of which have gone anywhere.
    4. A pastor with no experience in a church your size or larger.
    5. A pastor with a lawsuit or one that seems imminent.
    6. A pastor who’s had a high staff turn-over at previous churches.
    7. A pastor who incurred a large amount of debt and then left the church.
    8. A pastor who bends personal theology to fit yours.
    9. The pastor at the smaller church down the road who wants to merge his church with yours.
    10. The pastor’s son, who is also at the church but whose gifting is so different that they lack the skills you need.
    11. A pastor with a track record of not getting along with a board or staff.
    12. A pastor who has been a great teacher but who hasn’t led anything of significance and cannot lead or cast vision.
    13. Someone with an agenda to remake the church into something that isn’t consistent with its DNA.
    14. A pastor who has been a caretaker when you need a builder.
    15. Jim Collins once said to pastors: “Your church cannot be great if it cannot be great without you."
  9. See the list for what the pastor and the board can do to help the church with healthy good-byes.
  10. Honor the past and future possibilities are unlocked.
  11. The key is not about finding a man but fulfilling a mission.