NL Moore & Associates welcomes this two-part blog post by Keith Drury, Associate Professor Emeritus at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana. It is excerpted and edited with permission from an original single post, which can be found on his website Check it out!

About one fourth of today’s pastors are boomers and almost all mega-church pastors fit that description. However, in the coming years the boomer reign is coming to an end. As boomers think about replacing themselves the topic of succession planning has come to the forefront. Almost all of the boomers leading in larger churches think they need to play a central role in who gets the handoff.

While these descriptions do not apply to every single boomer, here are a few generalizations and “inclinations:”

  1. Boomers want to pick their own successor. Few boomers have developed their church board to the point they feel the board can be trusted to select a new pastor without their input. Many boomers want to pick their own successors and then persuade the church and leadership to ratify their choice.
  2. Boomers expect to “train” their successor. Boomers want their successor to “learn the ropes” from them. They want to help the successor to network and teach them the intricacies of running their church. Most expect to do this over a year or two by “bringing in a candidate” and “training them” to run this church properly before handing over the keys on some future unspecified date.
  3. Boomers want someone like they are now, not like they were when they were building the ministry. Pastors seem to forget the attitude, style, vigor and rambunctious drive they had when they were establishing, developing and growing the ministry. When they think about their own successor, they may have an unintentional bias toward a candidate who fits their own profile and will protect what they have built, rather than innovate to make changes to take the ministry to new levels.
  4. Boomers want to stay connected and continue to attend their church. Not all, but many hope to stay connected to the community of the church. This comes with assurances that they will “travel around and do some other things but will certainly stay out of the way of the new pastor.” Sometimes this works out, sometimes not so much.

While these are generalizations, they do reflect the kinds of conversations and inquiries many boomer pastors are considering as they discern their own succession pathway.

Here are a few thoughts to consider:

  1. Someone who is weak enough to work for you might not be strong enough to follow you. Leading a large church takes capacity. Most high capacity pastors don’t want to work for someone for 1, 2 or more years “in training” before being allowed to take the reins. A really strong leader might be willing to be “trained” for a summer, but the best leaders already know how to lead, think, learn and influence. The “training” period can be shortened with a high capacity leader. Of course, there are scores of young ministers who would love to lead your church and would be willing to follow you around for several years like a puppy to get it. They may be the most willing, but perhaps not the most capable.
  2. The best young pastors aren’t excited about taking over a monument to the past. Up and coming church leaders won’t be keepers of the past, but pioneers of the future. True, the past must be honored and trust must be built first, but the church needs to be prepared for the changes that will come with a new pastor. Many young pastors rightfully want to imprint a church with their own DNA and not be obligated to maintain the DNA of the previous pastor.
  3. The shorter the period of succession planning and transition, the better for ministry momentum. Once succession planning starts, church ministry often loses some momentum. Word leaks out and the church often goes into a “wait and see” mode. If the process lingers too long without focus, staff members start jumping ship and programs get put on hold. The church shifts toward neutral, which isn’t necessarily bad unless it goes on too long. Or if the church is put at risk from a poor process and never recovers.

The reality of succession is on the horizon of every church and pastor. As this generation of boomer pastors inch toward their own succession timeframe, the necessity of planning and preparation are certain. The good news is there are an abundance of resources available to help pastors as well as denominational leaders. Faced with difficult challenges like this, boomers have almost always “found a way.” I suspect they will rise to this challenge too.

NL Moore & Associates offers a full range of succession planning services. Please reach out for information or if we can help your church plan for the successful transition of your pastor.