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A few weeks ago I interviewed William Vanderbloemen about succession planning. He mentioned the book Transition Plan by Bob Russell and Brian Buchner as a great resource. I thought it would be beneficial to check out this book for myself. In addition, I connected with Bob Russell for an interview about his ministry and the book. Here’s my interview with Bob.

TONY: How did you end up being the senior minister at Southeast Christian?

BOB: I graduated from Cincinnati Bible College in 1965. In 1966, a new church plant in Louisville, Kentucky called Southeast Christian was meeting in the basement of a house. They had been searching for a minister for over a year. They knew the church had good potential and concluded, “Perhaps God is leading us to a younger man who will grow with us.” They were given my name, and invited me to be their pastor shortly after. I was 22 and there were 125 people attending Southeast Christian at the time.

TONY: What is the main thought from Transition Plan?

BOB: Church leaders are wise to develop a succession plan for their minister well in advance of the minister’s retirement. The same principles apply to the business world.

TONY: Why did you write Transition Plan?

BOB: Primarily to motivate preachers and church leaders to acknowledge the temporary nature of their leadership and to be willing to humbly lay the groundwork for their successor so that the Kingdom of God can continue to advance. Southeast Christian grew to an average worship attendance of 18,000 while I was the pastor, and I rejoice now that it continues to be blessed now that I’ve been gone for four years. God wants his church to be a powerful influence, transforming lives and culture regardless of who is leading it.

TONY: What practical applications do you hope leaders will take away from the book?

BOB: I hope leaders will genuinely put the welfare of the church (or their organization) above their own interests. That requires a realistic acknowledgment not only of our mortality but of the declining effectiveness that inevitably comes with age.  It also calls for ongoing humility – being willing to share the spotlight and slowly stepping away from it even when the ego urges otherwise.

Usually the departing leader should be available for private counsel when asked but needs to remove himself/herself from the organization so the new leader can be free of interference.  It is wise to regard retirement not as a time of self-indulgence but of Godly service. That means planning activity in the final chapter of life that excites and invigorates us.

I encourage pastors, elders, and church leaders to read Bob’s honest account of transitioning out of leadership and passing the baton to a successor. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

  • “The truth is, retirement is mentioned in the Bible. The Levites were required to quit at age 50 (Number 8:25)!”
  • “Humor and humility were two essential virtues in making the transition successful.”
  • “A wise person faces his mortality and a loving person considers the next generation. To fail to do both is folly and selfish.”
  • “Just as locks keep honest people honest, a good transition plan with clear lines of authority and a definite time frame help avoid conflict and uncertainty.”
  • If the successor is given ample time in front of the congregation and staff, the church will become familiar with his leadership style, gain respect, and gradually make the transition in their minds…”
  • “Look for every opportunity to not only build up your successor, but also pave his way.”

Want to read more? Here is my Amazon link to Bob’s book which released today.

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