The most difficult decision a leader will make
A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation over tacos (I have found that tacos inspire the best conversations) that has stuck with me ever since. We were discussing how several organizations are struggling to find viable candidates to plant churches. This both surprised and saddened me, and I asked my lunch mate why he thought this was the case. His answer was simple: "few churches are spending time raising up people who can lead a church."
Last week, at Catalyst West, Andy Stanley dropped a bomb on the crowd. After asking how many in the room were over 40 (I reluctantly raised my hand), he said this: "the next generation church will be built by the next generation... but they don't have the resources that the current generation has..."
The American Church is entering into a season of transition. A significant number of our pastors are nearing retirement age (please don't email me about how "Christians never retire"). I have seemingly daily conversations with churches who were surprised that their long-term pastor in his late sixties has decided to retire, are nervously trying to figure out how to have succession related conversations with a pastor they believe needs to retire, or by a pastor who realizes that he would like to retire but is uncertain how to help the church through this process.
In early March I had a conversation over dinner with a friend who had pastored several churches before leaving ministry in his fifties to serve churches as a consultant and coach. I asked him what led him to make this shift. He told me about how he came across Numbers 8:24-26 and that the mandatory retirement age of the Levites stuck with him. After a significant time of wrestling, he realized that he needed to leave the work of pastoring to the rising generation, and assist them through his coaching.
Now, I don't think that we need to set a mandatory retirement age for pastors. But I do believe, wholeheartedly, that we need to be constantly operating with succession in mind... and be willing to step aside when the time has come. This means being OK with the fact that God's succession plan begins sooner than ours does.
One of the most common questions that I am asked when it comes to succession planning for your church is this: "when should we begin developing our succession plan?" My answer? 10 years ago. The second best time is right now.
Those of us who are currently leading churches need to be intentional about investing in and developing the leaders who are going to lead the next. At the same time, we need to be willing to give them the freedom to lead in ways that are odd to us. We also need to be willing to get out of their way when their time comes... even when we are convinced that ours might not be over.
P.S. If you are beginning to wrestle through succession planning, I'd love to talk. Use this link to schedule a time that works well for both of us.