When Your Senior Pastor Leaves (And It’s Your Boss)

I’ve read a lot in recent months about succession planning of senior pastors. I won’t restate the stats here of how many Boomer pastors will be retiring since I know you’ve read the same blogs that I have.

There have also been some good books written on the topic, which is great. There appears to be more than just one example of an older church that has gone through this successfully. Five years ago, I think I heard of the one good example over and over. These days, I’m hearing more. This is encouraging.

But I’m yet to read anything (I think?) on what to do if you find yourself as a young leader down-line on the staff of a church that just announced a well-planned, one-to-three-year succession plan (and sometimes longer).

Perhaps one of the reasons you joined that staff was because it was a stable place to learn, grow, and advance in leadership and influence. You wanted to learn from this long-term leader who is now talking about an exit. Suddenly, this dynamic church begins to look inward more than outward its mission. It’s getting weird, everything is difficult, and you are hearing things like, “This will be a long three years…”

Three years may seem like a long weekend to those looking forward to retirement, but three years is more than 10% of your entire life thus far!

I never lived this, so I asked a long-time friend (and former intern) what three things he’d say to young leaders on these staffs. His name is Curtis. He’s an executive leader at a great church. He’s a good singer, karaoke-host, story teller, drummer/percussionist, funny comedian, great husband, and awesome dad with an impressive beard.

He’s also an expert on what to do when this happens because he’s lived it not just once, but twice.

Here, in his own words, is his answer to the question what three things would you say to a young staff leader whose Senior Pastor just announced a long succession plan?

– Be patient…You will find that it is easy to spend many days living in the “what if’s?” Embrace ‘the waiting’ and don’t be too quick to jump ship for the next seemingly comfortable thing. Seasons are important. How things are now will not be how things are down the road. 

– Keep an open mind to the transition that happens in your own world… if you resign to the idea that you’re not changing what you do/how you work… then you’ll be planning your own exit. You will be changed through this! You will change how you work and lead! Transition is for everyone, not just the Senior Leader.

– Help your church and other team members say goodbye well to your pastor. You must do this and your church must do this. You can be a key here! All the new that is coming will be the tidal wave of change. If you and your team are not careful, you’ll shift focus there too soon. Don’t forget to honor them and honor them well for what they’ve done.

Remember…God knows your address. He knew this was gonna happen before you took that ministry role. Perhaps you have a unique role to play. Perhaps you’re there simply to learn, good and bad, about one of the key times in a church’s life. And perhaps you’re there to help other younger, even newer, staffers through the transition.


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