During my time in ministry I've seen some great leadership transitions and some train wrecks. The first transition I saw is one I will never forget. I was serving at a church and we were looking to hire a new Junior High Pastor. We interviewed a great candidate and it seemed like things were heading in the right direction. I was told we hired the guy and then quickly informed that we hired him as the Student Ministry Pastor and not the Junior High Pastor. I was a bit confused and learned that my beloved boss was being demoted and would eventually leave the church. Shortly after an opportunity came my way and I also transitioned away from the church.
I've also seen some great transitions. When I was called to serve at SHCC in Henderson, NV I served with a dynamic team of leaders. About nine months into my tenure there my good friend Rob Hall asked me to step up and lead our entire Student Ministry. I was thrilled for the expanded role. Rob and I had a long handoff where we co-led the ministry for a few months, shared preaching, did summer camp together and casted vision to our leaders. I led that ministry for six more years and saw God do great things!
These are just two examples from my life.
I've talked with friends who have been on both sides of the coin in leadership transition. I've talked to guys who came to a church and the last guy did them no favors in the transitions. I've also talked with friends who had great handoffs with Godly leaders. I've consoled friends who have lost dear friends when leadership made quick moves and talked with other friends who were frustrated at how slowly their church responded to a needed change.
A few months ago Willow Creek Community Church announced a leadership transition. Twitter was full of positive and negative comments. Friends in ministry talked about the announcement. Influential writers shared their opinion about the transition. Friends texted me to asked my thoughts about what Bill had announced.
For a while I've held my thoughts to myself and the few people I've spoken with. I thought they weren't entirely important but continued to dwell on them. Have you experienced something like this before? I topic came up and you need some time to figure it out? You wanted to process, internally, what you were thinking?
When I think of my experience with transitions in leadership here are my thoughts:
1) Internal leadership transitions seem to be better than externalFor how big of a platform that Willow Creek has, I think their decision for an internal transition was a great call. I highly respect Bill Hybles and his leadership. He talks about hiring people with Godly character, who are competent in their role, and find chemistry with those you work with. After talking about this for years he added something new. He talked about putting people in the right climate. By them choosing an internal transition they knew their team already loved the area!
When serving in the Bay Area I worked at an amazing church. We had some internal transitions from young people who were interns coming onto full-time staff. By having an internal pipeline of leadership we knew what we were getting. This was a big take-a-way from my time in the Bay Area. I really enjoyed working with our team and seeing us promote people from within.
2) In the future I think we are going to see more churches led by a plurality of Godly leadersAs I think about church transitions, and now I want to talk primarily about the lead role, I think we are going to see more churches moving to a plurality of leaders.
Think about North Coast church in Carlsbad. North Coast has led the way in a plurality of leadership. From what I know, they have four lead pastors. I don't know any of these men personally but have learned from two of them. From what I gather, two are the primary communicators but I'm not sure what the other two men do (I'm sure it's great work like executive pastoring).
When I think about my generation there is a shift. We enjoy working in teams. This morning I was walking my daughters to school when my oldest said: "Dad we're doing a project on the Native Americans but I don't like it. At my last school we worked more in teams, here I have to do it on my own." She gets it! Working in a team is more fun, more collaboration and more ideas.
Read this information from the Barna Group on the average age of a Senior Pastor:
When George Barna published his 1992 findings in Today’s Pastors, the median age of Protestant clergy was 44 years old. One in three pastors was under the age of 40, and one in four was over 55. Just 6 percent were 65 or older. Twenty-five years later, the average age is 54. Only one in seven pastors is under 40, and half are over 55. The percentage of church leaders 65 and older has nearly tripled, meaning there are now more pastors in the oldest age bracket than there are leaders younger than 40.I'm not opposed to leaders in their fifties leading churches, please don't hear that. I do think that we are going to see a shift and I pray it involves people of all stages of life. The church is longing for fresh vision and fresh leadership.
3) A long hand off helps prepare the people
When I think back to one of the most successful transitions I was a part of, I think the length of the handoff helped. Now I could see a handoff taking too long. If you are curious to know more about this, I encourage you to read Transition Plan by Bob Russell. I call this book a "plane ride read." You can read it quickly and talk with others about it. In the book, Bob talks about his transition with Dave Stone. I appreciate the time they worked together, the commitment they have to the local church and the openness in the handoff.
When the leadership of a church are open about the plan it allows the people to think more about the plan. When their is more time to discuss, there is more time to prepare, process and pray. I like to think about raising up young leaders today to lead churches tomorrow. One of my life goals is to invest into young leaders and raise you strong followers of Christ.
When you think about transition in a church, what would you add to the conversation.
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