Starting the Succession Conversation

Why your staffing plans matter now more than ever.

Succession is no longer just a retirement conversation—it is a readiness conversation. As we have seen this year with COVID-19, unforeseen challenges can present themselves at any moment. It is vital that our leadership planning is prepared to weather the storm as much as possible. So, how do we acknowledge the inevitable reality of succession and prepare for the future of the church?


Pastoral succession is the transition from one pastor’s tenure to another, not one pastor figuring out what they do after their leadership. It’s a forward-looking, holistic focus on the church body and all of its components. It asks, What has God done through this pastor, what growth took place through the board in this time and how does the board prepare for the next chapter? These discussions should not happen when a pastor is on the way out; instead, these planning discussions should occur regularly between pastors and their boards.


Pastors are realizing they don’t have as much time as they thought to create future plans for themselves and their church. With the uncertainty of COVID-19 and many unforeseen departures in leadership, it is crucial to have a readiness conversation. Whether you plan for an interim pastor or implement a temporary leader from within your church, having a plan for the unexpected will ease your mind if you do come across this situation.


Genesis 2 says it is not good for man to be alone, so isolation and social distancing through quarantine have made churches realize the need for a shepherd. COVID-19 allowed us to rest in the realization that permanence is not here. This understanding and acceptance will keep our minds fixed on heaven. It will keep our churches in a state of readiness for the next pastor, and overall, it will help the succession conversation.

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The future of effective ministry is not about having the best sermon, but having the most localized message. Preaching is turning away from directives and data and turning to self-reflection. Pastors will have to spend time looking in the mirror first, finding where God speaks to them and then understanding how to use that message and calling in their specific community.

In a world where everyone can access every great sermon online, the need is for somebody to speak to their local ZIP codes. Pastors will need to speak into a camera, do things digitally and think about their online presence, but also have a specific affinity for their local community. Churches that are focused on hyper-localized ministry will be the most effective churches in the future.

Every church is different, every individual is different and every leadership situation is different. There are no five easy steps to succession. If we look to Jesus as an example, much of his ministry was preparing the world for when he would no longer be here. It’s time for us to see succession as the new normal of how we train pastors.

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