Pastors Knute Larson, Jim Brown, and Jeff Bogue talk about preparing for the future of your church.
Sometimes pastors yawn when others start talking about the future. “I go a day at a time,” one pastor said to me. “Do not make me think five years from now.”
Some consider vision or future plans to be sidestepping the sovereignty issues that belong to God alone. Of course we are not here to change God’s plans! But we are responsible to make or change our own plans, for which we will give an accounting. We are called to “work out your own salvation (think good health) with fear and trembling,” as Paul tells the Philippians and us, before the promise, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (2:12,13). We all decide how we will use our wisdom and our time, and we lead the church to do the same.
So it seems we need to spend some of our time thinking ahead, not only about hopes for the church we serve, but also about hopes for our best days and future with that church.
So a few thoughts on succession.
In the meantime, do what is the only thing any of us can do — live this day with joy and gusto. Plan it and attack it and trust God’s sovereignty and thank Him for the privilege of walking with Christ!
We hope they help — the video and the notes. It helped us to think about them.
Live each successive day for the glory of God!
With love for our Lord and joy that the church is His,
Knute and Jeff and Jim
Watch the Video
Preparing for the Future
Who should think about succession plans and when?
- The pastor and the board should think about succession plans and think about them immediately. With pastoral succession specifically, the pastor and the board need to be having open conversations.
- I am 46 years old. I do not plan on retiring until I am 72 years old and I am thinking about succession plans right now. It is a constant conversation, because it puts us into a paradigm where we are always thinking of the next generation.
- I heard someone say recently that if you have a strong leader in every decade of life in your church, that it is incredibly healthy. So, I actually looked at our elders and staff. We have elders and staff in their 90’s, 80’s, 70’s, 60’s, 50’s, 40’s, 30’s, 20’s, and even an 18-year-old. Our staff and elders are made up of that broad of a scope of people, and that is important because we have a general idea of where the leadership of the church will flow through in the years to come. It is on our minds a lot.
- If pastors can think ahead about how long they would like to stay, and when they would like to retire, it is incredibly helpful.
- When I succeeded my senior pastor, he told me he would like to go full blast until he is 70, so that gave us a plan. I want to go until I am 72, so that gives the whole church an idea of where we are headed into the future.
- The leadership team and senior pastor should be thinking about this as the pastor ages.
- The senior pastor has to always be thinking about who his church should be reaching. Your platform will reflect your congregation. Leaders attract people of similar age.
- As we hire we are constantly asking this question, “Who are we trying to reach?” We make sure our staff reflects the age and ethnicity we are trying to reach.
- It is always good to be grooming someone from within your church to replace the senior leader for when the time comes. More importantly, keep getting younger in your hiring process.
- All of the succession plans I have witnessed have had their challenges and generally stem from churches growing older with their senior leader. So ideally, always keep that in mind so you do not set the next guy up to fail.
- Never be afraid to trust God in this process, of course. He loves His bride way more than we do.
- Everyone who has pastored the same church in a strong and loving way for more than five years should be consciously thinking about what is ahead. Perhaps for some it is about hoping to continue there for 20-30 more years, but there are pastors who prefer shorter terms of shepherding the same people. If the latter, or if many would not agree with the longer term, a very small team of confidants could be very helpful.
- Often there is someone on pastoral staff who is a logical and good person to groom for succession. That certainly makes sense because of trust, relationships, and knowledge of the church but it is not automatically successful of course.
- All of us should pray for wisdom from God about such plans but also recognize that He gives us responsibility (and wisdom) for making such choices.
- Not someone who is not serving well or working with vigor and love. He should worry about now.
- Whatever you do or plan, do not compare yourself with other pastors — even some hopes and plans you see on our video this month. We all are unique, loved equally by our Lord, and asked to be faithful where we are, a day at a time. The faithful pastor in a small town in Kansas will be rewarded right beside the famous leader of a big-city church. Faithfulness is the key and by God’s grace, and living in combination with Christ in us, we can do that, a day at a time.
When should we think about retirement issues?
- Today. The future should always be on our minds.
- Every pastor should have a plan when he thinks he should move on to something new or different.
- Even more important, he must be asking the question, “Is my voice still being heard?” In other words, I do not want to just stay here and end up “growing” our church to zero people.
- My personal goal is to go out on top, when the church is thriving and ready to hand off the mantle to the next man God has selected to lead His church.
- Plus, I personally believe once the senior pastor has retired he should move on to another group of believers so that the new pastor has the best chance to lead his people.
- Probably sooner than he thinks he should be thinking about it.
- Somewhere around age 35 if you hope to do church all your life — not by announcing plans 🙂 but by thinking ahead to where you and yours might wish to live. If there is any chance of buying property there, it will be at a better price now than in 30-40 years!
- Then another subject, sort of: some pastors might be considering a change to a staff specialty role at age 55 or 60. Depending upon how we are built, some may tire of the lead role and the pressure of sermons most Sundays, even in a smaller church. There are wonderful roles in a few churches for specialists in pastoral care, senior ministries, Sunday and home groups, or some combination. Nothing is junior varsity about that!
- On the negative side of that question, I often give cautions about giving any plans out loud except to a small team of trusted leaders. Talk about it five years ahead, and you will immediately be a Lame Duck in the minds of some.
- The strong leadership life of the average pastor headed for retirement after announcing it is probably less than a year. For some of that time people will be saying goodbye or asking you not to leave rather than following your pastoral leadership.
Church vision — how to think five years out
- The way to think five years out, is to think six months out. Have a six month vision, an eighteen month vision, a thirty six month vision, and a sixty month vision… then that vision roles forward.
- Instead of looking for the perfect five year solution, look for the perfect six month solution knowing that the playing field is always going to change as you move forward.
- Set achievable goals every year that drive you towards your vision.
- Each year we post our goals for the year and weekly we pray for one of them and place it on the program for people to see.
- We have a large wall in our west lobby that has all the yearly goals listed so people can see them every time they are in the building.
- Keep in mind that things change quickly. Keep your decision making process fluid so that you can act quickly and not have to wait until next month’s elder meeting to move.
- I operate one year at a time with a big vision plan for five years.
- One simple way I have operated through the years to keep vision hot is to be able to respond to this scenario: if someone stopped in your office and said they have one million dollars they would like to give to your ministry if you can tell them your vision. If you cannot say, “Here is our plan,” then you are not vision-ready for the future!
- Always plan your vision with the God piece. Let me explain: if you can measure, project, calculate, and figure out how your vision will unfold, then it is probably not big enough and you have left God out of your plans!
- Do not make it so hard! Or so long! Perhaps if we can stay ahead of the trends and needs by planning one-to-three years ahead of the people we serve and lead, that is good. The hard-work planning should be about the next few months.
- We can all dream and pray about what the church should look like in the five “directions” of every church ministry (and do not skip the first and the last): grace (the arrow comes down), worship (arrow up), community (two arrows coming together), mission (arrow pointing forward), and integrity (the arrow circles to our own hearts!). Good vision means setting standards and goals in each of those areas. It is often healthy to set some workable goals for a 10-week “campaign” in each of those areas. Jeff mentioned doing some kind of strong campaign every three years. Some do a shorter one every fall as they begin the church year.
- I would be glad to send some samples of what some churches have done successfully in those areas.
- It is important to note that you, the staff, and the board may be the only ones thinking about this area of vision and direction of the church. That is just the way that it is. Do not lament this fact, but accept the role as leader — in God’s eyes also! Lead! Shepherd! See goals! Proceed! Love!
- Just be sure that you and chief advisors are talking about the next six months, and that you are treating next Sunday as the most important day of your pastorate so far (and then the next Sunday).
- A healthy gift for any church is getting someone with “new eyes” to look at your plans and hopes for the church — a fellow pastor or teacher of church life who thinks about church a lot, but has never seen your goals. This is also a good part of three or four pastors meeting regularly, even by Zoom or Skype, to hold each other accountable and to evaluate each other’s hopes for their respective churches.
- This is a good exercise personally or for a marriage as well as for a church: if we keep going the direction we are headed now, where will we be in five years?
Vol. 4, Issue 12
Pastorpedia is produced monthly by three experienced pastors: Jeff Bogue, of Grace Church, in several locations in the Bath-Norton-Medina areas of Ohio; Jim Brown, of Grace Community Church in Goshen, Indiana, a church known for its strong growth, family and men’s ministries, and community response teams; and Knute Larson, a coach of pastors, who previously led The Chapel in Akron for 26 years. Pastorpedia is brought to you by CE National. Visit cenational.org/pastorpedia for more issues and to read the bios of our contributors.