A relay race can be lost by a missed passing of the baton. No matter how well the individuals run, the race hinges on the effective transfer of what the runners carry. Mess that up and the race is lost!
Effective leaders know that their effectiveness to a large extent depends on the transfer of information and power to others. At significant times it actually means the transfer of key leadership. In my early sixties I knew the time was right to step aside from the senior pastor role and allow a younger leader we had raised up to assume the lead role in the church. In transitions like this there are number of considerations:
· A senior pastor needs to consider their leadership: how far can they take a church, how are they developing, how do the needs of the church match their strengths and gifts and their season in life, and where is God leading them vocationally?
· Plan carefully and prepare the church well for such transition, especially the staff and Church Council. Even if the new lead pastor has possibly been in the congregation for many years they bring their unique personality and different emphases. The smoothest transition will still bring inevitable change.
· Ensure that the successor is essentially a person who can take the lead role and is not best suited to a second chair or other designated position.
· Plan the transition to occur at an appropriate season in the church. Avoid major festivals and events so that the leadership change itself receives adequate attention and people are truly aware of the change of personnel.
· If the exiting leader has negotiated to remain in that church, ensure that appropriate boundaries are established and stick with them. In my case I stayed on the pastoral staff part time in an executive and mentoring role and spent the balance of my time in ministry beyond that congregation. A couple of years later I officially retired and gave ten months elsewhere in a strategic interim ministry. I now continue as a member of the church I led for twelve years and am called upon to preach quarterly and write studies but wisely I am not involved in governance.
· Denominational ethics may stipulate expectations of the retiring leader. These should be consulted. They are written to protect various parties and to avoid detrimental conflict that can harm the ministry. This has particular importance if the new leader has been recruited from outside the congregation, but also applies to internally developed leadership.
Biblically, Moses passed the baton to Joshua, Jesus to the disciples, the Apostles to the seven in Acts 6, Paul to Timothy and so on. It is a principle and process we need to do well for the sake of the church and future leaders.
Rev Dr Dean Brookes
3Dnet Interim Co-Director
Today Dean devotes his time to leadership development and coaching pastors.