The Ten Commandments for Successful Succession Planning

The clock is ticking. At my age you have to start thinking about handing off the pastoral baton to a younger guy in God’s timing.


While I still hope I have a few good years in me at the helm, wise leadership requires thoughtful discussion and diligent prayer about how to plan for such a significant thing as pastoral transition in the life of the church.

Lately our elders have been pouring over Next: Pastoral Succession That Works. Too many churches suffer a disruption of their peace when pastors come and go. We want to avoid that if at all possible.

One practical assignment suggested in the book involved the current pastor drafting his own version of the Ten Commandments for successful succession planning. I found it a helpful exercise.

I offer these as a possible encouragement to any other church facing the same stewardship challenge.

  1. He shall run the race hard for the glory of God and the welfare of OGC over the rest of his course as pastor-teacher—however long the Lord determines that he remain on point.
  2. He shall consistently take initiative to keep the conversation about succession ongoing so that no one else may feel awkward about having to force the issue due to his reluctance.
  3. He shall do everything in his power to ensure that the baton handoff occurs—when it does—in a fashion that safeguards the peace and purity of Orlando Grace Church.
  4. He shall regularly pray about the succession process for wisdom and guidance from the Lord from start to finish.
  5. He shall determine to listen carefully and defer in humility as must as possible to the concerns/desires of the rest of the leadership team in executing the plan.
  6. He shall neither exit prematurely from his role nor linger past-time in the same, but seek to discern with the rest of the body the most opportune time for the transition.
  7. He shall diligently seek to determine from the Lord what next vocational assignment awaits him and his wife, whatever and wherever that may be.
  8. He shall act as the number-one cheerleader for the next pastor-teacher and do everything in his power to ensure the man’s good success and favor with the people and community.
  9. He shall tend carefully to the needs and concerns of the rest of the staff throughout the succession process such that their voices are heard and their welfare served.
  10. He shall exit when the time comes with a heart of gratitude and humility for the privilege of having pastored faithfully, albeit imperfectly, so great a church as OGC.



And they do, don’t they?

When people move on from our churches for any number of reasons, it can take its toll on a lot of things, including the unity of a fellowship. Not too long ago our own body experienced what seemed like an inordinate number of transitions. It can leave us sad, especially if we felt particularly close to so-and-so. It can even lead to resentment, if it seemed to us that a family left for not so good a reason. Worst case scenario it can discourage so greatly that we find ourselves tempted to withdraw from the community thus adding further threats to the peace.

The loss can be palpable.

Comfort and perspective on this score abound in 2 Tim. 4:9-18.

Do your best to come to me soon. 10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. 12 Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15 Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. 16 At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Paul writes from death row. He experienced a degree of relational loss which defies the imagination. You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. All who are in Asia? Really? Good grief! Which of us can claim that much pain from abandonment?

Comfort Insight #1

Gospel partnerships matter—a lot. Can you feel Paul’s sense of urgency. Do your best to come to me soon. He needs Timothy badly, just like we need one another.

Comfort Insight #2

Gospel defections hurt—a lot. Paul longs for Timothy because Demas bailed on him. Some worldly tractor beam locked on and lured the man away. How is this a comfort? In my experience, normally God’s servants move on for mostly reasonable or at least relatively benign reasons. Fortunately we don’t often feel the sting of wholesale defection from the faith. When it does happen however, it can crush us.

Comfort Insight #3

Gospel assignments change—a lot. Paul’s “who’s who” near the close of his version of a last will and testament reads like a Rick Steves’ travel log. The record shows servants moving all over the Empire. Here’s the deal. The sovereign God moves the pieces on the board according to His own good pleasure for His own good purposes in His own good timing (Psalm 115:3). We bow the knee and cover our mouths that we not sin with our lips.

Comfort Insight #4

Gospel reinforcements compensate—a lot. Paul sees in the changing landscape of partners a choice opportunity to bring John Mark out of the missionary doghouse and back into the battle (Acts 15:36-39). Very useful for service, he calls him. We’ve already seen God add some choice additions to fill critical posts at our church. We can expect more just as we can expect even more departures. God is good on both counts.

Comfort Insight #5

Gospel transitions galvanize—a lot. Or they can. When servants came and went, good reasons or bad, Paul testified that the Lord stood by Him at every turn and gave him strength. What a testimony! If the comings and goings of God’s people in our churches prompt us to draw nearer to Jesus and the strength He supplies, then we’ve gleaned something very good from that which often hits us very hard.

servethechurchHas your church recently undergone some redeployment of its most valuable resource—people? Look to the Lord to stand by your side and give you strength. And double down on your community commitments with those servants His good grace permits you to retain. They need you more than ever.

But bank on this: He will bring choice reinforcements in His own good time. Until then, He gives and takes away; blessed be His name.