August 6, 2015

The Quickstart Guide to Your Pastoral Succession Plan

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Succession planning can make or break a church. Someone has to fill your shoes when you move on, but few pastors think about what that transition will require in advance. Our team at Vanderbloemen Search Group has seen stagnant churches skyrocket after an effective succession plan. We have also seen churches close their doors after an ineffective succession plan.

An effective succession plan requires planning and intentionality. Whether you are 26 or 62, here are four steps to help you start thinking about your own pastoral succession plan.

1) You need a plan…now.

This might sound simple, but the amount of pastors and church leaders who do not have any sort of succession plan is astounding. Not having a plan is only setting up your church for immense challenges when the pastor decides to step down. It is vital to the long-term health of your church for the pastor and church leaders to have an intentional plan and timeline that is revisited each year.

Also, you never know when your church will need an emergency succession plan due to an unexpected departure of the pastor. This could be because of death, a medical emergency, or an unfortunate moral failure. Either way, start now by having a plan for what would happen if the current pastor could not fill the pulpit

2) You need an objective set of eyes.

Pastoral succession is an emotionally charged and heavy process. We often see pastors and church leaders disagree over succession planning because it directly affects the long-term emotional health of both the pastor and the congregation. It’s difficult to be objective during an emotional process, so bringing in a third party consultant who has extensive experience in succession planning is helpful to ensure your leadership team is thinking through all the details of setting up your pastor and church for long-term success. Our Executive Search Consultant Team helps churches with succession planning consulting, so let us know how we can help you.

3) You need to get your house in financial order.

As Warren Bird and I stated in our book Next: Pastoral Succession That Works, “Far too many pastors face retirement with no way to fund it.”

I had a phone conversation recently with a church board member whose pastor was tired and ready for retirement. This pastor was the founding pastor of the church and had not received an increase in pay in many years. Thus, he was facing retirement with no savings or retirement fund. Our team works with many pastors who are in a similar situation. It doesn’t have to be this way.

If you are a pastor, seek counsel now on what it looks like to have your house in financial order before retirement. This will allow you to focus on pouring into ministry without the stress of figuring out how you will care for your family upon retirement. A great first step that every pastor should do is go through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University to learn to live within your means, pay off debt, and save for the future.

4) You need to figure out what’s next.

A mistake we see pastors make is that they step away from ministry or retire with no plan for what they feel God is calling them to next. Ministry encompasses every aspect of a pastor’s life. It is their spiritual, social, and professional community. Many pastors face feel lost or depressed when facing retirement because they can’t imagine life without being a pastor.

Think about what motivates you. How can you use the gifts that God has given you and the passion He has instilled in you to stay emotionally and spiritually energized after retirement? For some pastors, that might mean serving churches in an interim role. For others, it might be writing or counseling. Whatever path you take, it is vital to pastors’ emotional health that they know what they are going to transition their focus to post-ministry.

These are four of many steps pastors need to think about regarding their own pastoral succession plan. For more pastoral succession help, check out this infographic on “The 10 Commandments of Succession Planning.”


Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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