Leadership: How to Win With a Transition Plan

Pastor transition
Is your church prepared for pastoral transition, under any circumstance? (Lightstock)

"A transition will be one of the greatest tests of your leadership, but it will also serve as one of the greatest rewards and testimonies of your legacy."—Tom Mullins

In a time of unprecedented change, we're seeing too many churches, educational institutions and ministries implode for three main reasons:

I feel like I've been surrounded by both good and bad cases of leadership transition recently; Oral Roberts University, Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale and Coral Ridge Presbyterian to name a few. To the point that many publishers have been asking me to write a book on how to do it well. But now I don't have to, because my friend, "Coach" Tom Mullins, has penned an effective manifesto on the topic.

Living and working in South Florida close to Christ Fellowship Church, I have observed firsthand as founding pastor, Tom, passed the reins to his son, Todd, in 2011. The church has not only survived but it has thrived since the transition!

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I've worked closely with my dad at OneHope since the early 1990's. Over the years, I gradually assumed more responsibility and took on the presidency in 2004 when Dad transitioned to a support role. He did it with such grace and humility—his heart for God's kingdom superseded any amount of pride that might have disrupted the ministry he established and poured his life into growing over a quarter of a century.

"... if Rob hadn't been there ready to take the baton, I would have had to release the leadership to someone else. In my 70 years of ministry, I've seen some tragic losses for the kingdom because people simply weren't willing to release what God had allowed them to be a part of when their season was over," Dad said in Mulllins' book, Passing the Baton.

Our transition, along with the Mullins', happened successfully because we had a plan. Not everyone does, which makes reading this book crucial ... whether you are just beginning your leadership journey, comfortably in the middle of it, or heading toward the end of your tenure.

"When you prepare for transition effectively, you stabilize your organization and give security to your people."—Quote from Passing the Baton

Since failing to plan is planning to fail, Coach Tom has done the groundwork for you. He's built the framework of aspirational theory for progression planning built on Biblical principals.

Taking steps to initiate and actuate a plan will set you, your family, and your organization up for a God-honoring leadership transition. You will be led through:

  • Determining the best timing for transition
  • Preparing yourself, as a leader, for passing the baton
  • Creating an atmosphere receptive to change
  • Selecting and preparing your successor for success
  • Handing off the baton well and moving forward into the next season
  • Handling crisis-driven transitions resulting from an unexpected death or moral failure

Many friends and leaders in ministry transparently share their experiences so we can benefit from learning about caveats to avoid.  Some of the messiest stories could have been avoided had a plan been in place.

Had Coral Ridge been prepared with a progression plan, the unexpected death of beloved Dr. D James Kennedy might not have left such a rocky path for Billy Graham's grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, to navigate as he stalwartly stepped up to guide the grieving church through the bumpy wake of Kennedy's passing.

Not all situations are as fluid as Tom and Todd's father-to-son handoff. Some father-son successor teams dissolve; like Charles Stanley of First Baptist Church and his son Andy, who ended up leaving to start Northpoint Ministries.

Last year Calvary Chapel suffered a shock when pastor Bob Coy announced a moral failure. I have had the great privilege and responsibility to support Chairman of the Board Stephan Tchividjian and help the church walk through the process of recovery and the unexpected leadership transition after Bob's fall.

As leaders, people are watching us. They are dissecting how we serve, operate, and especially how we transition in response to tragedy, or in the normal course of ministry seasons. How well or how poorly we do that not only bears testimony to our legacy, but it reflects Christ's Lordship over our lives.

"I believe the greatest legacy a leader can leave is having developed other leaders. But a legacy is created only when leaders put their people into a position to do great things without them."— John Maxwell

Rob Hoskins is the president of OneHope, an international ministry that shares Scripture with children and youth in more than 125 countries. For the original article, visit robhoskins.com.

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