Passing the Leadership Baton By Tom Mullins

Tom Mullins was the Senior Pastor of Christ Fellowship, a large church in Palm Beach, California. This is the story of his experience in passing the leadership baton to his son Todd Mullins, in what was apparently a very effective transition. John Maxwell, a member of the church and part of the teaching team, coached them through the transition process. He talks about eight aspects of the transition process.  

  1. Leading through transition
  2. Keeping the right perspective
  3. Preparing for the win
  4. Selecting and preparing your successor
  5. Positioning yourself for success
  6. Positioning others for success
  7. Leading through crisis-driven transitions
  8. Creating a legacy


This is a solid book. Not superb, but solid. A few highlights: He recommends that a transition coach can be very helpful, someone giving outside perspective. If you are the one who is leaving, don’t just leave something but go to something. That is, have something to go to. Decide, as a team, your relationship to the church that you have been leading. Have a clear plan that would cover the last five years, the last three years, and the last one year.


For example, Tom’s role at his former church is to meet weekly with the new senior pastor as a sounding board and confidant. (That sounds a bit much for the new pastor.) He pours into new leaders at Christ Fellowship. He helps with building acquisitions and raising money, as well as speaking on weekends a few times a quarter. He also writes and speaks around the country. And he is the president of a non-profit organization dedicated to raising up Christian leaders around the world.


All successors crave the approval and encouragement that only a predecessor can offer.


Some stumbling blocks to transitioning well:


  1. “But this is my baby.”
  2. “But this is what I do.”
  3. “But I am still alive and kicking.”
  4. “But I’m not financially ready for this.”
  5. Resistance to change. “But no one else will do it right.”


Start about three years out in discussions. Three years out lay out a transition plan of how it will actually unfold. One year out formalize the plan and go public with it.


Communicating the plan is vital:


  1. Talk with your family
  2. Talk with your board
  3. Talk with key leaders and donors
  4. Talk with your staff
  5. Talk with volunteers
  6. Talk with your congregation


Be sure and emphasize the things that are not going to change. Be clear about the team role in the transition.


Prepare your successor beforehand:


  1. Develop his communication skills
  2. Allow him the sole leadership at special services and events
  3. Let him take over leadership of staff and board events
  4. Encourage him to manage the finances and develop relationships with key donors
  5. Introduce him to other leaders of influence
  6. Put him in the center of your world


It is vital that the successor and the predecessor always speak well of each other.


The successor must be very slow in making changes.


He gives eleven practical tips for handing off the baton well.


  1. Make tough calls before the exchange
  2. Make yourself available after the transition has been made
  3. Ask your key leaders to be loyal to your successor during the transition
  4. Invite your successor into your network
  5. Be your successor’s #1 advocate
  6. Get your personal financial situation in order
  7. Stay relevant to what God is doing in the church
  8. Adopt a spiritual son and disciple him
  9. Start writing
  10. Pray
  11. Never retire


Mullins includes many examples of successful transitions as well as examples of failed transitions.


Overall, a helpful book, though not nearly as helpful as the book Next by Vanderbloemen and Bird.