Below is a letter I wrote to our elders & wives at First Central Bible Church on the subject of succession planning. One responded to say she was going to file it under email heading that take your breath away. I replied that at least I got her attention. 😉
Let me say first off that I am NOT planning on leaving or retiring any time soon. I am simply starting the process of thinking and asking questions. When the time comes, I want FCBC to be prepared to make a smooth and effective transition. I want the next pastor to step into a strong, healthy situation.
When I was in California last May for Jonathan’s graduation, my mother-in-law asked me when I was going to retire and I told her, “70.” She wasn’t quite sure how to respond. However, since I will turn 62 while in New Zealand, I have to acknowledge that leaving and/or retiring is somewhere on the horizon. I am closer to the end than to the beginning.
One of the men Carol does bookkeeping for is Tom Fowler of Fowler Financial Services in Bellevue, WA. Tom is an Elder at Crossroads Bible Church and is an old friend. As part of Tom’s business, he counsels families and companies about planning for retirement and succession. He sent me a note over a year ago about a book the Crossroads’ staff and elders were reading on the subject. Tom prompted me to start thinking about the issue.
Over the past 11 months, I have read four books on the topic written to church leaders.
- Transition Plan: 7 secrets every leader needs to know, by Bob Russell, Bryan Bucher
- NEXT: Pastoral Succession that Works, by William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird
- The Elephant in the Boardroom: Speaking the unspoken about pastoral transitions, by Carolyn Weese and J. Russell Crabtree
- Passing the Leadership Baton: A winning transition plan for your ministry, by Tom Mullins
The books were interesting and had some helpful principles and things to think about. The first and last books are written from a large, megachurch perspective where the pastor handpicked and mentored his successor.
At this point, I would ask for five things:
- Pray that I will know when to step aside. Below is something I wrote in my journal in 2004. The details have changed, but the metaphors are still fitting.
These days I feel like Aragorn of the first two books of The Lord of the Rings—haunted by the failures of the past, fearful of making the same mistakes, reluctant to take on the role for which he was born. I want to be Aragorn of the third book—stepping boldly into leadership, bringing encouragement to the fainthearted, leading a fellowship of people to victory. My fear is that if I stay at I will either become Theoden—listening to the whispers of the enemy and becoming a shell of a man, or Denethor—grasping onto a position of power, marking time, whose senses were dulled to the truth of his situation.
- Let me know if you sense I am losing my passion and/or losing my effectiveness. Let me know if I am becoming resistant to new ideas and/or change. One of my mentors, Pastor Kent Hughes, retired at 65 for this very reason.
- Please let me know when we should put this on the agenda and start talking about transitions.
- Pray that I will be faithful to the task God has called me to.
- Pray that I will finish well.
Thanks for all you do for Christ and FCBC.