“How Hard Can It Be?”

I recently met with a church board to talk about the impending succession of their 20-year senior pastor. At one point in the meeting, an older gentleman spoke up and said, “I guess I don’t really get it. How hard can it be? In my business I hire people all the time and replace long-tenured employees regularly. This is no different. I think if we just put our heads down and get the word out we could have this done in six weeks.”

Although his comments may be true, they are short sighted. Here’s why:

We don’t know what we don’t know.

My husband is a pilot, and after nearly 40 years, flying an airplane is like breathing to him. He makes it look so easy. He used to joke that he has the easiest job around. “Push the throttles up and the houses get smaller. Pull the throttles back and the houses get bigger.” He is now training other pilots and once took me into the airplane simulator to let me “fly” it around a bit. I honestly thought, “How hard can it be?” He certainly made it look easy. But I struggled to keep it at the right altitude and on the right heading. Making turns and changes within the timeframes and space were really challenging, and on landing I nearly crashed. Thank goodness it was just a simulator. Needless to say I had a new and lasting respect for my husband’s well-developed skill and experience. Had I not had his experienced voice in my ear the whole time, I doubt I could have gotten the simulated airplane off the ground in the first place.

While I have flown thousands of miles annually for years and feel very comfortable in airports and on airplanes, I didn’t know what I didn’t know when it came it sitting in the pilot seat.

The Church is not only an organization but also an organism: a living, breathing manifestation of the Body of Christ. And a pastoral call and hire is a spiritual venture more than an organizational act. The hiring of a pastor, and especially the succession of a long-term pastor, is a spiritual activity that requires an approach and process that honors that reality. For those who haven’t walked the road in 20 years, it can and should feel a bit daunting. It’s not easy, but it doesn’t have to be hard.

Organizational Intelligence

Fortunately there is an approach called Organizational Intelligence (OI) which provides insight into the overall health, culture and challenges facing each individual church during pastoral change.

This tool will tell the church where they land. Is the church in:

  • Transformation?
  • Chaos?
  • Recovery?
  • stuck in Status Quo?

By mapping the energy and satisfaction of the congregation on a diagram of these four quadrants, we gain insight into the overall health, culture and challenges facing the church or organization during succession. High energy/high satisfaction equals transformation; high energy/low satisfaction equals chaos; low energy/low satisfaction equals recovery and low energy/high satisfaction equals status quo. The results also inform about the options for succession, the necessity of an interim (or not), and the profile of a potential successor.

As you can imagine, the search and succession strategy will be quite different depending on the health and culture of the church. And the profile of a successor entering into a church in Chaos will be quite different from the profile of a pastor wired to enter in and lead a church that is stuck in Status Quo. Similarly, the profile of a Recovery/turnaround quadrant pastor is quite different from the profile of a pastor who is gifted to come into a Transformational congregation and help it move to the next level.

For example, if the OI indicates the church is in Chaos (where congregants indicate there is a lot of energy and activity, but very little of it is satisfying), the initial candidate profile might describe a leader who will work quickly to assess the state of the ministry – what is working and what isn’t working. It might depict a directional leader who will set clear strategy and develop organizational focus. In essence, the chaos church requires a leader who will create order out of the chaos.

When the OI shows a church to be in Recovery or in need of a turnaround (where congregants lack both energy and satisfaction with the current state of the church) the profile might describe a challenge-motivated change-agent who is not afraid of a little hard work. The right candidate for this kind of church is someone who can diagnose problems and then inspire and motivate people toward the right solutions.

Churches that are stuck are, in OI terms, said to be in Status quo (where energy levels of congregants are low but satisfaction is high, so there is no motivation to do anything differently). Stuck churches represent the greatest challenge to pastors. Churches that fit this description are at the greatest risk of organizational death. The candidate profile for a church in status quo might include a patient, gentle, shepherding, slow-paced change agent who can build trusting relationships with the people and gradually motivate and encourage them to increase their vision for the Kingdom.

If the OI indicates the church is already in a Transformational posture (a healthy outlook where congregants are simultaneously energized by their participation in the church and satisfied by it) the initial profile might describe a leader who is not a wholesale change agent, but an innovator and improvement agent. A transformational church does not need to change as much as it needs a well-paced, collaborative leader who can work with the existing team to build on the healthy foundation that was laid by another; someone who will build relationships and trust before moving forward to innovate, advance and replicate the good things that are already happening there.

These broad brushstrokes illustrate how four churches of a similar theology, size, demographic and worship style could have very different needs with regard to their leadership, strategy and/or development. They also give us clues about the distinct culture of the congregation, because one size does not fit all.

NL Moore & Associates offers a full range of succession planning/pastoral change services utilizing and Organizational Intelligence (OI) approach. Please reach out if we can help your church plan for the successful transition of your pastor. www.nlmoore.com