Read Part 1.
It’s one thing to put some verses together and present a pastoral succession plan. It’s another thing to carry out this plan. The following distills many authors’ advice on pastoral succession, addressed here to key individuals and groups.
The Outgoing Pastor
1. Commit yourself to training pastors. This commitment takes focus and time. Your ministry can have continuity when you train a pastor and have him take your place.
2. Be faithful. A brief stay at your church or a lack of wisdom may damage your credibility in helping your church find its next pastor. Even worse, your church may not want your help at all.
3. Plan for your future. Two factors often keep pastors from stepping down in a timely manner: money and ministry. Save your finances for a future without income. If you need to overlap your ministry with the incoming pastor’s, have your church save a year’s salary to pay two salaries during the overlap. Meanwhile, determine where you will serve in the future. If you stay at your church in another role, the church and incoming pastor must approve. If you stay, consider taking a sabbatical so the incoming pastor can lead for a time without your presence. When you return, meet regularly to iron out any wrinkles.
4. Communicate, communicate, communicate every step of the way. The church needs to know your plans for the future, events during the transition, and a firm timeline for succession.
5. Support the new pastor. Do not criticize; rather, cheer him on and encourage others to do the same.
6. Be humble. Handing over the reins and watching someone else lead your church is hard. But if he is trained, qualified, and approved, he is God’s man to take your place.
The Incoming Pastor
1. Do not promote yourself for this role. “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth” (Prov. 27:2). Without the confidence of the outgoing pastor and church, a failed vote for you could divide the church.
2. If called to be the pastor, you can do this. If trained in-house for this transition, you are simply taking on a more public role. You know the church, its beliefs, its distinctives, and any administrative complexities involved in its size.
3. Realize the relational shift. The church will have to adjust to your new role; and if you serve with other pastors, they will have to adjust as well, which is sometimes hard to do.
4. Realize that it takes time to say goodbye. Sympathize with the congregation when its previous shepherd shepherds no more. Memories of “the good old days” are not necessarily criticisms of the here and now. A church can miss its previous pastor while following the new one who took his place.
1. Change is never easy, but it doesn’t have to be hard. A church that trains faithful men, plans well, and communicates clearly about the future can be led well through a pastoral transition.
2. Give honor where honor is due. Give a proper goodbye to the outgoing pastor. Celebrate the incoming pastor’s new ministry. Somehow express thanks to their wives. (And pastors, as humble as you may be, let the church do these things for a good transition.)
3. If necessary, hire an interim pastor. This man can help you look for your next pastor or even train a man for this role. An interim pastor is especially helpful if a pastor has died, disqualified himself from ministry, or left due to conflict.
4. If you organize a pastoral search committee, include pastoral leaders from sister churches and your own church. Ask your outgoing pastor to train and identify his replacement.
5. Plan for anything. Create both immediate and long-term pastoral succession plans, and codify these plans in your bylaws. If a pastor’s ministry suddenly ends or he experiences a health emergency, the church will know what to do.
6. Know your timeline. A pastoral transition can take six to twelve months. Finding and securing a pastor from outside the church can add another six to twenty-four months.
7. Assuming the church has approved of the incoming pastor, try to have an overlapping transition. As the incoming pastor joins the outgoing pastor in ministry and preaching, the church will hear, follow, and know the new pastor as its shepherd.
8. Move ahead with your new pastor. Honor the outgoing pastor. Give him a sabbatical if he stays with the church. Celebrate the new pastor with an installation service. Key events can help the church accept and rejoice in God’s blessing.
Pray for Success in Pastoral Succession
Ideally, a church should never be without a pastor. May God help pastors train faithful men to take their place, and may God help each church as it approves its pastor’s successor. May the Lord raise up a generation of pastors to replace the ones who currently serve, and may He grant success to every pastoral succession.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2023 Baptist Bulletin. © Regular Baptist Press, Arlington Heights, Illinois. Used by permission.
David Huffstutler is pastor of First Baptist Church, Rockford, Ill. All Bible quotations are from the ESV.