How to Ensure a Healthy Leadership Transition

As with a family business handing over the reins to the next generation of leaders, church congregations must prepare for the inevitable—which sometimes comes sooner than expected. Our congregation, Victory Christian Center, had prepared for transition to a degree, but our founding pastor—my father, Billy Joe Daugherty—left us sooner than anyone expected.

Hearing the Call

At the time of my father's passing in November 2009, I would never have dreamed of eventually becoming lead pastor at Victory Christian Center. I wouldn't have guessed this was the plan of God for my life. Instead, I was content playing music, leading worship and co-leading mission trips. My wife, Ashley, enjoyed the opportunity to disciple young adults. I believed that someday down the road, we would pastor a church, but I felt it would be somewhere else as a satellite campus for Victory. Then, in the fall of 2009, my father was rushed to MD Anderson for emergency treatment to stop the spread of lymphoma.

The reports of his cancer hit our whole family and church by surprise. The morning he passed away I held his hand, crying and praying for God to heal him. Our family had been in and out of his hospital room for more than 24 hours. I was present as my hero, my pastor and my daddy left this world. But in those moments of grief, God's presence was in the room. In my heart, I heard His voice saying, "Paul, serve your mother, serve the church and get ready because you are going to pastor Victory soon."

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Hearing those words brought mixed feelings. I was the youngest in the family, with three older siblings who were all very capable leaders and already in the ministry. But I held onto that word from God in my heart and chose to obey. I jumped right in to serve my mother and Victory with whatever was asked of me, praying through every leadership decision and watching God unfold His will.

During this time, my mother stepped in as the interim senior pastor to help steady the congregation and prepare us for the future. A year after my father passed away, my mother and a few board members sat down with me to share something my father had said to them right before he died: "Paul is to be the future pastor of Victory when the board and Pastor Sharon feel it is the right time."

My father often had hinted about  my helping him preach more, but never had he shared those exact words with me. The word from God I heard in my grief immediately resurfaced, and I knew this was the path God had for me. In the next four years, my mother and other key leaders began coaching me for all of the church responsibilities and allowing me to preach in the main services.

Assuming the Mantle

In August 2014, when I was 28, God's personal word to me became a reality. After my mother told me earlier in the year it was time to for the passing of the baton and announced it to our church, I stepped in to fill the position of lead pastor.

When my mother transitioned from lead pastor, she truly entrusted me to lead but didn't leave me hanging. Whenever she is not traveling or speaking at other churches, she is actively involved in the many different areas in which I need her wisdom and advice. I'm also surrounded by solid men of God, both senior to me and close to my age, who have continued to serve as great leaders in the church.

We are a big family of believers, and one that is growing. God is adding more families to the church, connecting more members to serve as volunteers and seeing many who had left our church come back home. Each month there is steady growth in attendance and membership because of God's grace, a great team of leaders on staff and the faithful seeds of God's love that my parents sowed in the last 30-plus years in our city. Each week we minister to over 7,700 people in our services and many more in other areas of ministry: Victory Bible College, Mother's Day Out, the K4-12th grade Victory Christian School, our missions/outreach team, the Tulsa Dream Center and Camp Victory. Altogether there are now more than 500 staff members who are passionately serving our city and nations around the world.

Declaring God's Best

Because of my age, people often ask if I feel overwhelmed leading a ministry the size of Victory—and the answer is yes! Each week I battle nervousness or inadequacy, feeling overwhelmed by the burden of it all. It brings me to my knees more often in prayer, asking God for His wisdom, grace and the help of the Holy Spirit—and God has been faithful. Our church also has walked through many battles publicly, but God has used them to help us improve us where we needed to, and also has reminded us that we are always in need of His grace.

As a young leader with a big responsibility, I'm thankful my wife is serving right alongside me and that our church has accepted us both as their pastors. Ashley had the blessing of growing up in our church and school, so early on she was able to grasp the heart of Victory's ministry.

A few years ago, when I was walking through a personal storm, God stirred a declaration in my heart, which I wrote down and would privately speak out every time I walked into our church building. This declaration helped me combat my insecurities, fears and thoughts that our best days were behind us. Each time I would speak this declaration aloud, joy, faith, hope and expectancy that the church's best days were ahead grew stronger.

After I stepped in as lead pastor, our church started making the same declaration during our services and now can't wait to say it each weekend. The declaration says: "I'm here on purpose because I have a purpose. My heart is open; my mind is ready to receive, because God is not finished with me yet. My best days are right in front of me, and I have victory in my life because Jesus lives in me!"

As for what the next 10, 20 or 30 years hold for Victory, no one knows, but we believe it's going to be powerful. We serve a God who takes His children from glory to glory, from strength to strength. Our best days—for the church worldwide—are right in front of us! We must release our faith for God's greater impact, greater influence and greater growth. We shouldn't settle for defeat or discouragement but rise up in faith and declare God's hope for the future.

Be encouraged by the words of the apostle Paul: "He who started this work in you will be faithful to bring you to a flourishing finish!" (Phil. 1:6). God intends for us all to finish strong.  

Paul Daugherty and his wife, Ashley, are lead pastors at Victory Christian Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

10 Principles for Young Leaders

The young leader must keep several key principles in mind when assuming new responsibilities. Consider these 10 keys to leading well:

1. Honor. Honor those who have paved the way before you. You didn't get to where you are on your own. Spend time learning from those who have been where you are, asking questions and really taking their advice.

2. Listen to God. The greatest asset believers have in any transition is the ability to hear the voice of God. Spend time listening in prayer and in the Word. Become sensitive to the Holy Spirit's prompting with ideas, strategies, decisions and relationship difficulties.

3. Listen to healthy criticism. Not all critics are against you. It's good to have constructive criticism. Listen with discernment and consider the source. If criticism can help you grow, receive and apply it.

4. Give grace. God is with the young leader on the journey of learning how to lead, so stay in a place of grace. Give grace and receive it.

5. Love your family. Be a leader who loves your spouse and family enough to not spend all of your waking hours at the church or away from home. When you do come home, choose to be truly present. We often have had to leave our phones in another room or in the car so that we can truly be present as a family. We also go to church together and on ministry trips together as often as possible. This is something I watched my parents do, and as a result, all of us have learned to enjoy the church rather than despise it.

6. Serve well. The greatest title the young leader can have is servant. God won't say at the end of your life, "Well done, good and faithful CEO, pastor, worship leader, supervisor, administrative director." Rather, He will simply say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." Keep a servant's heart.

7. Build trust. Young leaders are often eager to make a change or to implement an idea, but it's important first to build trust. People are more open to new ideas when they trust you and feel that you have listened and considered their point of view. A young leader will not win over everybody in their care, but listening to counsel from the elders of the church and praying hard before making key changes is critical.

8. Don't get bitter. Have an honest conversation with God at the beginning and end of each day. My dad used to offer this reminder to me and others who wanted to go into ministry: "If you don't get bitter, you'll make it." People will come and go, befriend or betray you, love you or hate you—but if you decide beforehand that you will not allow your spirit to be polluted, you will be much better off as a leader.

9. Stay connected to the Source. Your identity and worth are not found in how many people come to your church, how much money comes to your organization or how many followers you have on Instagram, but only in Christ. You have everything you need in Him, so stay connected.

10. Have fun. One minister gave me some advice that some might find surprising: "Paul, make sure to have fun serving the Lord." Serving God is not meant to be endured. Rather, it is meant to be enjoyed.

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