Passing the baton
Last night, I shared at our State of the Heart meeting. I talked about what succession planning might look like for us at CVC.
If you weren't at the meeting, below are the notes that I used as I shared with our people.
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I want you to know that I’m just as excited as ever about what God is doing in and though my life. I’m just as excited as ever about what God is doing in and through CVC. I’m just as excited as ever about what God is doing in NE Ohio. The call of God on my life to NE Ohio and CVC is strong. I am fully committed to what God is doing here.
And I’ve been thinking about and praying about our future. I’m 54. I think I still have a lot of energy and vision. There are areas of ministry where I’d like to focus more time and attention – mentoring, leadership development, missions, evangelism, coaching church planters, and writing. But I’d have to say that the role that I play sometimes blocks some of that. Those 4 weekend services do take a toll. Every week, Saturday night gets here fast. And the overall leadership position of Senior Pastor sometimes keeps me from spending time in some areas where I have giftedness and passion.
So, as the Elders and I have prayed about the future, we think it’s time to start some succession planning. Dynamic churches engage in leadership development and succession planning. A long time ago, I heard someone say, “There’s no success without a successor.” I’ve never forgotten that. So, over the last several years, I’ve been thinking about who the next Senior Pastor of CVC might be.
This is something that is biblical. The story of Samuel anointing David teaches us that God chooses his leaders and helps other godly leaders to find them. As you survey the Bible, you can see a variety of scriptural precedents: Moses to Joshua, Elijah to Elisha, Paul to Timothy. And in a sense, isn't this what Jesus did? He spent three years living with, teaching, and mentoring a group of men whom he had hand-picked to carry on his earthly ministry.
A few months ago, I was reading Numbers 27. It’s the story about God leading Moses to pass the baton to Joshua. And here’s Moses’ prayer. “Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd” (Numbers 27:16-17). Here’s what I wrote, “This verse comes at a time when we are talking about succession planning. What a prayer! It is the Lord who must appoint the man. The Lord told Moses that it was Joshua – a man he had been mentoring (v. 18). The new leader is to be a God-appointed, deeply spiritual, shepherd-leader who is a faithful example to the flock.”
Think about it. Every current Senior Pastor of a church is on the way to becoming the former Senior Pastor. It’s “the elephant in the church boardroom.” At CVC, we recognize this fact and want to be proactive in dealing with it.
So, we believe that it would be in the best interest of CVC for us to begin the process of searching for a Co-Teaching Pastor who, God-willing, may one day be my successor and the Senior Pastor of CVC.
We will be asking God to provide the funds for this position through the regular operating budget of our church. Right now, our staff is doing a good job spending below budget. And CVC has been generous. We are meeting the budget with our giving. So, the financial picture is solid.
What might the ideal candidate look like? We’re working on finalizing the job description. But it looks like someone who is a passionate follower of Christ and who wants to help people grow to be passionate followers of Christ. It looks like someone who loves God, loves others, and loves the world and who wants to help others do the same. We’re looking for an excellent communicator. We think finding someone who is in the 35-40 year old range might be good. We’d like to find someone with senior level leadership experience. We’d like to find someone with a Masters of Divinity degree.
We’re asking God to send us someone who will protect the family feeling we have at CVC. The elders and the staff feel confident about the direction of the church – to help people grow to be passionate followers of Christ who love God, love one another and love the world. We feel like challenging people to grow in these areas happens best in the context of community. So, as we look for someone, we’re looking someone who shares this vision, this philosophy. We feel led by the Lord concerning the path we are on.
We’ll put together a search team, finalize the job description, and begin the search. We don’t have our eye on any particular candidate. It’s wide open. We believe that the right person with the right gifts and experiences and relationships is out there. Just like God has brought a great staff together here at CVC already, He’ll do it again. We have learned that the length of time it may take to find such a senior-level leader like a new Co-Teaching Pastor can last as long as 9-12 months, and even take longer.
Now, let me be quick to say several things: I am healthy. Several months ago, I had a routine physical and the doctor gave me a clean bill of health. And as I said before, I am just as passionate as ever about the vision, the ministry, and the mission of CVC. And as the Elders have talked about his over the last six months, even after a new Senior Pastor is in place, the Elders and I anticipate that I will stay on staff here at CVC and focus on the things I’m most passionate about - mentoring, leadership development, missions, coaching church planters, writing as well as teaching whenever I’m asked.
Let me reiterate. I still feel led by God to stay very actively engaged, long-term, through the ministries of CVC. The Elders feel the same way about my long-term involvement.
This isn’t to be seen as an 8-10 year process or even a 5-7 year process. Don’t hold us to this timeline. We don’t know what God’s timing will be. But it will probably take a year to find God’s man for the position. We’ll share teaching responsibilities for a while – maybe a year or so. If it’s a good fit for the man and for CVC, then with the guidance of the Elders, we’ll begin the process of transitioning the leadership responsibilities. So, this feels more like a 2-4 or 3-5 year process.
I want to have some time to invest my life into the life of this next leader. The Elders want me to have an opportunity to spend some time grooming, coaching, and mentoring this person.
I’ve been thinking about what I hope this transition feels like. Lots of church transitions are like light switches. One pastor leaves, the light is turned off. The new pastor arrives, and the switch is turned on. It’s abrupt and obvious. But I’m praying that this transition will feel like lights on dimmer switches. As one is dimming down, the other is brightening up. The ambiance of the room – the culture of the church – protected.
We’ve seen models where this kind of thing has happened before and it’s been a positive thing for the churches. Close-by: The Chapel in Akron where Knute Larson was Senior Pastor. Fellowship Bible Church in Chagrin Falls where Lud Goltz was Senior Pastor. Hudson Community Chapel where Jim Colledge was Senior Pastor. Further away: 1st Baptist Church in Jacksonville where Homer Lindsay was Senior Pastor and Elmbrook Church in Wisconsin where Stuart Briscoe was Senior Pastor.
As I have talked about this with my friends and mentors, some have said that having the old guy hang around just doesn’t work. But I made an appointment with Lud Goltz, the former senior pastor of Fellowship Bible Church. He passed the baton successfully and stayed at the church in a different role. He said that this will work if three things are true. 1) The former Senior Pastor is spiritually mature enough to let go of the reigns. 2) The new Senior Pastor is spiritually mature enough to not be threatened by the former Senior Pastor’s presence. 3) The congregation is spiritually mature enough to welcome new leadership. If we are truly are abiding in Christ and LG, LOA, and LTW this should work well.
You might be thinking, “But why, Rick. Why?” The best answer I can give is “love.” I love you. I love this church. And I love the mission God has given us here in NE Ohio. I think it’s much, much better to do this now rather than to wait until it’s overdue.
Therefore, the Elders think it is wise to begin implementing a long-term succession plan while CVC is stable, healthy, and growing. We believe that this can, God-willing, enhance the ongoing growth and progress of the gospel through ministry of CVC. We are confident that by God’s grace, this process will be handled in a prayerful, orderly, deliberate way that protects the unity of the church and advances the Kingdom of God.
What you can do:
Pray for God’s blessing, protection, and guidance for CVC.
Pray for the future leaders of CVC and that God will raise up the right people at the right time to accomplish His will.
Pray that God will continue to use CVC to help people grow to be passionate followers of Christ who LG, LOA, and LTW.