SWEET, SWEET SUCCESSION

Seven Tips for a Peaceful Pastoral Transition

On Tuesday of this week our elders blessed Jan and me with a farewell dinner. After fifteen years of ministry, this Sunday will mark my final service as OGC’s lead pastor .

I can only describe our time with the elders and their wives as the sweetest of fellowship experiences. I love these folks and they love us.

We started talking about a succession process over two years ago. Throughout this process to pass the baton to Jim Davis, OGC’s fourth lead pastor, I have learned a lot.

I determined at the outset of my tenure at our church that I would seek to ensure, with God’s help, a peaceful transition that would guard our unity (Eph. 4:1-3).

Here are seven lessons for others who may profit–either now or in the future. After all, every pastor is an interim pastor.

One, get honest. I have never wanted to hang on to my position too long. I’ve wanted to finish with some force still in my stride.

Eventually I sensed a growing, prolonged angst within. It kept affecting my spirit and performance. Integrity demanded owning that.

Two, do homework. I knew little to nothing about pastoral succession. Two books helped: Next: Pastoral Succession That Works and Passing the Leadership Baton.

Our elders spent the better part of a year reading/discussing the former. It fostered helpful dialogue about our approach to the process.

Three, take initiative. I started the conversation. I emphasized this fact over and over again.

No one pressured me to step down. Dismissing any doubts about that made things so much easier for everyone.

Four, stay humble. So important, yet so difficult. Preparation for a new pastor required a hard look at our situation.

Candid talk about our weaknesses humbled me. I struggled not to take constructive criticisms as personal indictments on my body of work.

Pride needing repentance reared its ugly head more often than I care to admit.

Five, be decisive. Initially we framed the timetable for succession as a two-to-five year window. Before long we realized the need for setting a hard target.

Once the succession cat escapes the bag, fixing a date matters–experts who’ve done it suggest no longer than two years.

Jan and I took initiative once again aiming for a finish line of September 2019.

A caveat. Decisiveness doesn’t preclude flexibility. God brought us the man of His choosing according to His timetable.

Be prepared to adjust readily and graciously.

Six, talk often. I am so proud of our congregation. Changing lead pastors can create anxiety. Our people embraced the challenge beautifully.

But a peaceful transition does not occur without adequate communication between leaders and followers. I say to both–you cannot over communicate!

Seven, trust always. I clarify for folks, when they logically assume I’m retiring, that I’m actually rehiring.

At my age, I will no longer serve in a demanding context like that of OGC. However, I intend to continue working for a variety of reasons.

The kicker is this: I don’t know in what capacity. We are waiting on the Lord for His direction and provision (Isa. 40:27-31).

Walking with Jesus means walking by faith (2 Cor. 5:7).

This reality never ends until we finish the race (Heb. 12:1-2)–the text of my farewell message this Sunday.

Question: What lessons have you learned about pastoral succession?


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