In this fourth installment of Pastor John Larson’s series on succession, he focuses on how important it is for pastors to rise to the challenge, face fears and be vulnerable.

Pick an issue in your life where you feel pressure. The longer one dwells in a pressure-filled situation, the greater the temptation to react out of fear or self-preservation. We may be tempted to react in an attempt to control the situation, save face, avoid embarrassment, protect our income, maintain relationships, etc. These kinds of motives lurk in the dark places of our heart where selfishness thrives.

Pastors are not immune to these kinds of temptations. My guess is that every pastor, at one point or another, has felt worn down by weekly preparations for preaching, staff management, board meetings or congregational needs and has been tempted to take the easy way out. Over the course of 36 years of ministry there were certainly times that I wanted to quit. I am glad I didn’t. Ultimately I knew there was no “easy way out.”

For many, the topic of succession seems to spark a response of fear and self-preservation in the heart of a pastor. We want to protect what is important to us. Fear of the unknown tempts us to react with decisions designed to alleviate our fears or save us from discomfort rather than prepare the church and shepherd the flock. We wish there was an easy way out. But in this pivotal moment we must face our fears, rise to the challenge and be vulnerable.

Planning starts with this simple question: “What is best for the long-term health of the church?” We may be tempted to dwell on questions like “What is best for me or my family, or my income, or my reputation?” But the final chapter of ministry in a church is no time to focus on self. Our first calling is to serve Christ’s people, so the important question is “What is best for them?”

Many of us have heard cautionary tales of fellow pastors who have dismantled years of fruitful ministry with a few fear-based decisions made late in the fourth quarter of their leadership. I challenge you to take the high road. Resource support and help in creating a plan that will serve your church and your family as you pass the baton of leadership. The number of resources you’ll discover may amaze you.

Planning a transition of any kind makes us feel vulnerable, but faith is impossible without vulnerability. Keep leading, pastors! Lead out of sacrificial love. Embrace vulnerability and give faith room to operate. It will be challenging, but this is the moment to shift energy from self-preservation to self-sacrifice, following Christ’s example and call to leadership in the church. Trust the Lord to guide you, your family and your congregation toward the plan that is best for all.