Two Critical Considerations When Leaving Your Pastoral Post
By: William Vanderbloemen March 4, 2021
As we continue navigating the impacts that COVID-19 has had on pastors, it’s impossible to ignore the topic of succession planning. To address the significant shift we’re experiencing in church leadership, award-winning writer, researcher, and the co-author of my latest book Next: Pastoral Succession That Works, Updated & Expanded Warren Bird and I wanted to share the importance of succession planning, especially during the pandemic.
Here’s a breakdown of the two major aspects of planning that are critical for setting up yourself, as a pastor, and your church for success when you’re time comes to step down:
1. Succession planning and
2. Financial planning
1. SUCCESSION PLANNING IN A POST-PANDEMIC WORLD
COVID-19 has accentuated weaknesses in church programming and leadership development. In the hypothetical circumstance where both the #1 and #2 person in a church are suddenly unable to perform their duties, what would a church’s plan be? Who would step in immediately? How would your church staff and congregation feel certain that this person could provide the theological, cultural, and relational support that they are used to?
Last March, Warren and I released an updated and expanded version of our book Next. The stories told in the initial book were updated, research was elaborated on, and new, relevant questions were addressed. Since our initial release of the book, we’ve served as consultants for many amazing, flagship churches in developing their own unique succession plans.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the brevity and fragility of life has come more to the forefront of people’s minds, and more leaders are wondering what they need to do to prepare to one day pass the baton to trained successors. This phenomenon will be critical for at least the next few years, especially as Baby Boomers are retiring and their Millennial-age successors aren’t considered yet qualified to lead ministries.
While interviewing pastors to update the book, the most common response we heard from pastors working on succession planning was, “I wish I had started sooner.” A firm succession plan relieves a pastor’s burden greatly, allowing for more intentional leadership in their last years.
Especially after COVID-19, which taught us that nothing is certain, it’s imperative to plan for the future of your church, even if that future feels far off right now. We’ve heard from countless pastors who are considering stepping down early due to fatigue, a lack of desire to keep up with technological trends, or personal reasons related to the pandemic. These pastors had no idea they would be leaving their posts so soon, and those without a succession plan are wishing they had considered this future before it became a reality.
2. FINANCIAL PLANNING FOR RETENTION AND RETIREMENT
Oftentimes, a lack of succession planning leads to impoverished retired pastors. Particularly with the rise of the non-denominational church in the last 30 years, many pastors cannot afford to retire. And staff that have gone years without raises are not going to be successfully retained long-term.
Retirement is only mentioned a few times in the Bible, but it explicitly says that the community is supposed to care for the pastor once they step down. If you are on staff for a church or are simply wanting to look out for your pastor, ask your board what the church is doing to ensure that. And as a pastor, do not brush off offers by your church to take care of you.!
If you are a pastor and your church offers a raise, take the raise. Take the raise, keep the pay where it should be, and make life for the church, board, and your successor easier by keeping up with compensation.
Ultimately, the one sentence from the book that most shares our message is this: “every pastor is an interim pastor.” No pastor will be in that role forever, so it’s important to have honest and clear conversations about succession. Planning for a long-term legacy helps you win favor with the board and the church, and sets up your church for long-term success.
When we wrote the first version of Next, I had no idea how prevalent and how crucial the conversation on succession would become 5 years later. Now, as we consider a post-pandemic world and pastors are considering transitioning earlier than anticipated, Next feels more timely than ever. As we potentially near the finish line of the pandemic, maybe you’re feeling nearer to the finish-line of your pastoral career. Check out nextpastor.com for more information or to order the updated version of Next.