Over four years ago I became the Senior Pastor of Mariners Church, succeeding Kenton Beshore who faithfully served our church with integrity and skill for 35 years as Senior Pastor. Over the last four years, Kenton and I have fielded many calls from Senior Pastors, elder boards, leadership teams, and potential successors—all asking important questions about healthy succession. I have learned much through those discussions with Kenton and believe that the first step in healthy succession is a healthy leader being ready for a healthy succession. Quite frankly, not all the leaders who have asked about succession seem ready for succession. Here are four qualities in a leader who is ready. All four are essential:
1. A leader ready for succession has a healthy identity apart from the role.
Part of the journey as a Christian is believing and receiving the identity that Christ gives us rather than achieving identity through other means—including our roles or gifting. Most of us struggle with finding our identity in what we do. This could be especially true for a ministry leader who enjoys the fruit of credibility and effective leadership, or a leader who has been known and encouraged for a long time because of the role. If the leader’s role is the source of their identity, succession will be very difficult. Kenton did deep soul work for a decade before the transition. One tangible example: he utilized his annual study break to imagine and practice life without being the Senior Pastor. Kenton is not perfect, but he knew and embraced who he was separate from the role—a son of God, servant of others, etc.
2. A leader ready for succession has a holy vision for the future.
If a leader does not possess a vision for his/her future, the leader will resist transitioning from the role. In succession, there must be a compelling future in the leader’s heart that helps pry their hands from their current role. Kenton was excited about training pastors, continuing to teach God’s Word, and connecting with the global partners of our church. He knew what his next season would entail, and he was invigorated by the vision for it.
3. A leader ready for succession is convinced it is time.
A leader can have a healthy identity and a vision for the future and still not be ready for succession. The leader must be convinced it is best for the organization/ministry for the transition to happen in the short term. Kenton knew it was time and opened his last elders’ retreat with a talk on “why it is time.” If the leader is not convinced it is time for succession, the leader may waver back and forth, which will only put more uncertainty into the team.
4. A leader ready for succession is resourced for the future.
William Vanderbloemen, in his book on succession entitled Next: Pastoral Succession That Works, shared that the main reason many pastors don’t begin a succession process is because they don’t have the financial resources to do so. It is the responsibility of church boards and personnel teams to ensure finances are not the reason succession talks are stalled or never begin.
Kenton, my predecessor, and I recently recorded eight podcast episodes on healthy succession. The first episode is all about the heart of the leader who will transition. You will be able to find the podcast by searching for “Eric Geiger Leadership Podcast” wherever you listen to podcasts.