Legacy Leadership: 10 Tips for Pastoral Succession


In the lifecycle of every thriving church (and even the stagnant or declining ones), a moment comes that is as inevitable as it is challenging – the transition of leadership.

For pastors in their 50s and 60s, this reality looms closer, yet is often shrouded in apprehension and uncertainty.

The thought of passing the mantle can be daunting, filled with concerns about timing, choosing the right successor, and the future of the ministry.

This transition, if not approached wisely, can be a point of vulnerability for the church and cripple or crush it.

The crux of the issue lies in the absence or delay of succession planning.

Many senior pastors, absorbed in the day-to-day demands of ministry, postpone this crucial task until it becomes an urgent necessity. This delay can lead to hurried decisions, lack of preparation for potential leaders, and even congregational discord.

A well-timed and thoughtfully executed succession plan, on the other hand, can ensure a smooth and healthy transition of leadership, preserving the legacy and future of the church.

Here’s some practical advice that can help navigate this season.

  1. Start Early: 
    Begin thinking about succession planning well before retirement looms. This allows plenty of time for preparation and smooth execution.
  2. Identify Potential Successors: 
    Look within your church for individuals who demonstrate leadership potential. Mentor and groom them for future roles. Internal leadership is often the most successful, however the replacement may come from outside.
  3. Foster Open Communication: 
    Discuss your plans and timeline openly with church leadership and the congregation to foster a sense of transparency and trust.
  4. Create a Succession Plan:
    Develop a clear, formal succession plan. This should include timelines, candidate training processes, and how the transition will be communicated.
  5. Engage in Mentorship: 
    Actively mentor potential successors, sharing insights, wisdom, and the nuances of leading your specific congregation.
  6. Seek External Advice: 
    Consider consulting with external advisors or church consultants who can offer unbiased perspectives and expertise.
  7. Prepare the Congregation: 
    Gradually prepare the congregation for the eventual change. This can involve introducing potential successors in various roles and capacities.
  8. Ensure a Support System:
    Establish a support system for the new leader, including advisory teams or continuing mentorship opportunities.
  9. Focus on Legacy, Not Just Succession:
    Frame the transition in terms of legacy and future growth, rather than just a change in leadership.
  10. Pray and Seek Divine Guidance: 
    I mention this last so you’ll remember it first. Throughout the process, continually seek God’s guidance and wisdom. Consider him the CEO, and you his faithful assistant. He’ll give you direction.

Succession planning isn’t just a strategic move; it’s a stewardship of the ministry you’ve been entrusted with.

It’s about ensuring that the work you’ve poured your heart into continues to flourish, even after you’ve passed the mantle.

For pastors in their 50s and 60s, starting this process now can be one of the most significant and lasting impacts you make on your ministry.

In embracing this journey with foresight, wisdom, and prayerful consideration, you pave the way for a future that honors the past and embraces the new horizons with hope and promise.

Don’t let this rest on the shelf like those books you’ve bought and never got to. I think you know what I mean. Set some time aside and get this started right away. You can do this!

If you need another brain to think it through, reach out to me.