Succession Planning

I’ve heard these words often: “Who will take over when the leader leaves?”

“What if he dies? Where will that leave us?” When any endeavor is being led well, the common bent of people will  always be toward fear. But this fear can distract the team from pressing forward, innovating new advances and risk-taking new terrain. Fear about succession makes us hunker down and become self-absorbed. The team frosts over with conservatism, territorialism, and suspicion. Entropy breaks the RPM of momentum’s flywheel.

Succession panic happened with David and with Solomon. Transition traumas will happen today. The fear of losing leadership is a common one. But God logged a promise with Solomon that needs to nestle in our hearts as well.

Have you ever noticed that God usually answers our questions, not with an answer, but with a promise?

Now LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, “You shall never fail to have a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons are careful in all they do to walk before me according to my law, as you have done” (2 Chronicles 6:16).

God promises to get involved in the succession process and guarantee longevity under one condition: That we will teach and disciple our sons, (our mentorees and those whom God has called us to lead) in such a way that they walk according to His Word with hearts that are open before Him. In that atmosphere of genuine authenticity and purity God works best. Nothing less will do.

The best guarantee for succession is to honor God by discipling our sons well. Remember: you can teach what you know but you will ultimately reproduce what you are!

Honoring God does not exonerate us from planning ahead, but it does allow us to plan ahead without fear. Trusting God does not excuse us from using our brains. Confidence does however, excuse us from the need to control everything in order to guarantee that the company or the church will thrive and not dive.

Now on that basis of faith in God’s ability to raise up a successor, let me offer a few practical points:

1. It only takes a moment to pass the baton, but it will take Honoring God does not exonerate us from planning ahead, but it does allow us to plan ahead without fear. - Mentoring Leadersyears to pass the heart of that baton.

What God used in the beginning to build a ministry is what He will use to sustain it. Remember the zeal, the pioneer spirit, the commitment, the fun, and the innovation that fueled your soul in the beginning? Keep those fires lit with those you lead. Never tire of telling the stories of how God began the ministry. Tell them over and again. Ps. 78:4 reminds us with these words:

“We will not conceal them from their children, but tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and His strength and His wondrous works that He has done.”

It’s the “culture” of your ministry, the DNA of your unique assignment that you want to pass on. Of course, if the values are unfruitful, upgrade them. But if they have been effectively hosting the hand of the Lord, keep them and enhance them! As a pastor I am not just a leader, I am also a guardian of the hand of God on the ministry. His hand remains on us so long as I carry the culture well.

2. Fill the pipeline with emerging leaders early on.

Be committed to the next generation without ignoring the seasoned leaders. Don’t throw out the old in exchange for the new. Churches need both. In Matthew 13:52 Jesus instructs us, “the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.”

If a leader does not blend the young with the old, precious lessons will be lost, and youthful leaders will repeat the mistakes only history can warn us to avoid. Great wisdom is transferred through the experience of those who have gone before us. Tap into sage advice.

Do be aware, aged wisdom can sometimes mix with the fear of progress and paralyze it with conservativism. But an effective leader can pan the gold flakes from the tons of ore. Some may be stubbornly committed to what “worked” in the past, but as a leader, learn to distinguish the necessary from the unnecessary without forfeiting relationship.

Create a climate where the young want to learn from the old and the seasoned want to mentor the emerging. There are many ways to invest in young leaders. It can be an internship program or a work-study opportunity, but be committed early on to providing opportunities for young leaders to be involved and to develop.

Create a climate where the young want to learn from the old and the seasoned want to mentor the emerging.  - Mentoring Leaders3. Establish systems that have the tensile strength to sustain the stress of transition.

I am an entrepreneurial leader. I have always had an innate sense of what works and what does not. I have led more by intuition than by academic training. However, intuitive leadership will never serve the organization well in transitions. Although a leader may have a sixth sense and can lead well by gut feelings, the next generation of leaders will be at a great loss. When the ministry is excelling, no one knows why. When it fails, no one knows how to resolve the problem … (except the intuitive leader). The success is based on the chemistry of one or more talented people with inherent and natural leadership skills. Systems need to be established that will guide the next generation of leaders that may be more logical and left-brained. Core values, ministry distinctives, principles, systems of organization, job descriptions, and ministry expectations must all be in order. The main reason I wrote my initial books (Doing Church As a Team, Dream Releasers, and Culture Shift) were to transfer seminal values into the lives of those in my team.

4. A Leader’s Private Long Range Planning.

I plan out my next decade with ideals in mind that are always open to God’s veto or rearrangement … but I do that in private. (Prov 16:9)

I follow what I believe will be the optimum for my family, ministry, legacy, and for the future of the church. I critically think through the best time for me to transition, and that time is never when a leader is nearly comatose. Like a competitive relay race, the runner does not hand the baton when he is depleted. Neither does he hand it off when he is at the apex of his stride. It is just over the crest when it is handed off. The speed is still at its optimum, but the strength for that speed to be sustained is not.
I have had to make adjustments to maintain my strength … knowing that what began with a burst is now requiring a bit of recalibration! I am planning for a transition even though it may not take place for another five to ten years. You can’t make those plans when you are exhausted. That starts the next generation off with a limp. But much of my planning is in private lest others who are not used to long range planning become fearful of an impulsive change in leadership. It is far from that. In fact, private long range planning for me alleviates the possibility of irresponsible or hasty retreats. It challenges me to stay the course and serve well, but when it is time to leave, that I don’t overstay my welcome, either!

Succession planning in itself is healthy for it keeps you looking for emerging leaders. It reminds you that none of us is indispensable and that we are all finite creatures.

The word “succession” is built on the word “success.” The success of your succession will be found as you untangle these ironies:

  • Plan well but give God veto rights.
  • Serve with all your heart as if this were your last whistle stop, but always remember that you are a steward for this season only.
  • Plan to stay until you die, but live as if this were your last year.
  • Work hard but take vacations.
  • Love your calling, but where you will be graded in the end will be in your marriage and family.
  • In the end, “relationships” will be what last, not deals, new contracts, or numbers.
  • You can teach what you know, but you will reproduce what you are.


The above article by Pastor Wayne Cordeiro is a repost from the Mentoring Leaders storehouse. 

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