I have had multiple conversations these past few weeks with pastors and leaders about the importance of healthy transitions, particularly as it relates to succession. Why? I am passionate about Jesus and the proclamation of His glory to the next generation.
Over the decades I have repeatedly seen the destructive consequences of leaders who hand over power poorly. Andy Crouch says it best:
“It is hard to think of many things that do more damage to an organization than leaders who have no plan for how they will hand over power…When leaders do not actively plan for the end of their power, and when we who are led by them allow them to indulge in fantasies of unending influence, they are idols, no matter how well disguised” (Strong and Weak, IVP 2016).
I describe my own 4½-year interior succession process in the final 17 pages of The Emotionally Healthy Leader. Almost three years have passed since that day. Now I find myself speaking much more forcefully, clearly, and directly to my fellow pastor/leader friends. I do so around three words:
- Stewardship: This is Jesus’ church not ours. You are going to die. And then God will continue to build His church. We are only temporary stewards of people, their history, their gifts, their talents, and the mission God has for your organization or church. We are shepherds of Jesus’ sheep, not ours.
- Identity: You are so much more than a pastor, a board member, a vice-president, a president, or a staff worker. You are the Father’s beloved son or daughter. You are married to Jesus, headed for an eternal celebration with Him. Your first calling, like mine, is to behold His beauty and seek His face (Ps. 27:4).
- Trust: Fear is perhaps the greatest reason so many of us unconsciously avoid stepping out of positional power. What will I do? How will I live financially? Will I be forgotten? At moments like this we are tempted to be stingy not generous, to choose scarcity not abundance. We easily forget the entire Christian life is about trusting Jesus. This is the primary work God has called all of us to do (see John 6:28-29).
Our inner monsters emerge when we enter this level of vulnerability. You will need large blocks of time in Scripture with Jesus. You will need wise counselors (e.g. mentors, therapists, spiritual directors, coaches) to speak truth to you when you are tempted to climb down from the cross.
But if you persevere, you will discover that after the cross, there is always resurrection. Endings always result in new beginnings. And you will, perhaps for the first time, understand Jesus’ words to Peter: Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you don’t want to go (John 21:18).