*Note: I would like to solicit the prayers of my readers for my friends Gary and Rosetta who are remembering what would’ve been the 2nd birthday of their daughter. Please keep them in your prayers today. Much love to you both, and to your family.

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~Part I~

An interesting trend I’ve noticed over the past decade or two is that in today’s church, particularly the Black, charismatic church, people don’t join churches, they join pastors. (We can talk about the “why” on another day). That presents a plethora of problems, but one in particular is relevant to today’s article.

What Happens When the Pastor Dies? Or Quits?

I’ve been in church my entire life, so I really don’t think there’s too much I haven’t witnessed or experienced during my tenure with the church. I’ve known pastors to be convicted of felonies and end up serving time in prison. I know of one who decided he had just had enough, so he walked away from his church, returning to his home 2000 miles away. I’ve known a few to be run out of town by scandal, completely abandoning their churches. I’ve known a few to backslide. And of course, I’ve known countless pastors who died – many of them passing long before they even reached retirement age.

Those are some pretty tragic situations; it’s always sad when a beloved pastor is separated from his church, for whatever the reason. But what’s really tragic is when the work of the ministry ceases and the church collapses because the visionary is no longer around to lead. Another trend that we’ve seen in the past three decades or so is that many churches are independent and/or unaffiliated, not belonging to any organization. This, of course, means that there’s no overseeing body to appoint a new pastor or lead the church until a new pastor is identified… and inevitably, that church will collapse.

I won’t pretend I get it. You train 5, 10, 20, 100 leaders. Week after week, you pour into them. You develop them. You instruct them. Over time, or perhaps instantly, they catch on to your vision. You pastor them for years, even decades… and when you go, there’s not one person in place to carry on? I hate to go back to this, but often, this is a result of having members who don’t belong to the church, but to the pastor.  These days, we are so devoted to our pastors, but have absolutely no real loyalty to our churches. I know we think we do, but the real story is told when the pastor is gone and the members feel as though they have no other reason to stay.

Planning For Your Departure

A sudden, unexpected change in leadership always brings about a decline in membership, compromised morale, decreased funding, and lots of conflict. This is why pastors – and all leaders – need a succession plan.

What is succession planning? Succession planning is the process of identifying and developing internal leaders to fill a key leadership role. It’s important to know that this isn’t a one-time plan you sit down and write. It’s an ongoing effort to make sure the work continues, even in the pastor’s or a key leader’s unexpected absence.

Who needs a succession plan? Anyone who serves in a leadership position should actively identify and develop someone to take their place. It is especially critical for pastors to have one.

Why do I need a succession plan? Most people are uncomfortable thinking about their death. Certainly, no pastor wants to imagine his church without him in it. But if you pause for a moment and ask yourself “what will happen to my church when I die? What if I die in the next year?” To drive the point home, you may even need to ask a few core members what they would do if you died in the next year. Change is hard for even the most seasoned, mature church members. Effective succession planning will help ease the transition of an outgoing pastor, preserve the health and stability of the church, and preserve morale after a pastor/leader departs.

When do I need to start succession planning? NOW. One part of effective leadership is planning for the future. There is no way of knowing for sure how your role as pastor will end. But if God gave you a vision for ministry, there’s no reason for the work to cease. One surefire way of making sure your vision dies is to abandon it without appointing someone to carry it on.

If you’re wondering where to start, be sure to read part two: Now, who’s in charge? (Succession Planning, Part II of II). And as always, please feel free to call or write me if you have any questions.