To avoid suffering gaps in leadership, local church leaders need to ask three basic questions as they walk the path of succession planning.
By Aaron Summers
The church is at a tipping point. Over the next five to 10 years, the local church’s decisions will either prepare it for closure or to seize the future for the kingdom. The second-largest generation, the Baby Boomers, will soon no longer be in a position to lead. Today, Boomers are 58 to 76 years old.
Is the church prepared for the extreme shifts during this rapidly approaching transition? Is the church constructing a succession plan for when current Boomer leaders are gone?
Shaped by protests, assassinations, and resignations, this generation careened from tragedy to escapism and then plunged into the real world. The explosion of consumer goods—bell-bottoms to Brooks Brothers, mood rings to Rolex watches—marked this generation. In addition, television was formally introduced to these children. Due to the abundant population of this generation, competitiveness grew exponentially, but they remained optimistic that everything was going to be all right in the end. Boomers believe if they pay their dues, they will succeed. In their mind, If they sacrifice enough, success will come. In a word, Boomers are ambitious.
Boomers’ ambition grew with them, and they’ve been consistently vocal and open about wanting it all. For this reason, many wives went back to school, took jobs, and helped pay for the lifestyle they had grown accustomed to. Boomers wanted to climb corporate ladders and build stellar careers. In the church, the Boomers brought leadership and, then, ownership. Many churches flourished under their energy, vision, and ambition. But as they begin to pass, there are gaps in leadership. Without a plan for the future, the church will needlessly suffer. To avoid this, local church leaders need to ask three basic questions.
1. What is the current situation?
An analysis of the current situation reveals many differences in perspectives and skills. Write down the percentages of people from each generation who are currently a part of your church. Next, write down the percentages of people from each generation who are in leadership of any kind. Does each generation have a seat at the table? If not, why? What particular skills and abilities do people in your church have?
In Romans 15:1-6, Paul addressed the need for believers to love one another and seek unity. The commands to help, build up, have patience, and encourage are fitting for followers of Christ, speaking directly to the need for multiple generations to live in unity.“Division is easy, but it restricts the ability to transfer to the next phase of life in the church.” — @AaronWSummers Click To Tweet
Division is easy, but it restricts the ability to transfer to the next phase of life in the church. The Roman church was divided over secondary issues considered “spiritual” issues by one group and inconsequential by another. Paul used the words “strong” and “weak” to openly discuss the issue between Jewish and Gentile believers. Jewish Christians struggled with certain foods and their processing. Gentile Christians had no history of these rules. They accepted the freedoms of Christ while their Jewish brothers struggled to understand or choose to remove these traditions. Those who abstained judged those who didn’t as being less pious and unholy. Those who indulged judged others as too rigid or unmoving on tradition. This attitude reduces succession planning until love returns. Compromise is not the point, but love is.
2. What needs change, and what does that entail?
Churches with longstanding traditions run the risk of the traditions turning into requirements. Some may struggle to let go of traditions, while others may be ready to remove them. The struggle between these two groups raises tension.
Recognizing the disaster that awaited Rome, Paul strongly urged the group to learn to walk in unity. For the church in Rome, Paul begins with the strength of obligation. “Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1, CSB). Christians have a duty to hold up the weak. Whether strong or weak, each has the gift of salvation, which grants the freedom and responsibility to choose whom they serve. Each must consider others before themselves.“In a Christian context, both the strong and the weak are to set aside their tendencies of criticism and judgment, respectively, and act in the love Jesus demonstrated.” — @AaronWSummers Click To Tweet
The way of Christ, as Paul states, is for the strong to shoulder the needs of the weak. Paul’s counter-cultural teaching shows that Christ obligates the powerful to serve the powerless. In a Christian context, both the strong and the weak are to set aside their tendencies of criticism and judgment, respectively, and act in the love Jesus demonstrated.
3. How do we address what we know?
Once leaders know the differences and distinctions coupled with change processes, they can form a plan for the church’s continuing vitality.
Before a church can walk the path of succession planning, it must be filled with an attitude of love and humility. The time for power, politics, and positions is over. The church has a more significant mandate—to make disciples of every nation. In order to properly engage in succession planning, the church must love in the way Jesus loved. Jesus modeled for everyone how to think of others first. This same attitude should be in every believer. Paul strengthens his argument to the highest with the model of Jesus, who did not please Himself. He put others first and even bore the insults (Romans 15:3). As Jesus took the insults upon Himself, so also the strong are to carry the weaknesses of other believers as imitators of Jesus.
Paul’s instruction is reflective of the Proverbs 22:6 model of adjusting the training to fit the student’s abilities and needs. By the desire of Jesus’s prayer in John 17, believers today should act in this same manner—bearing one another to unity for the sake of the gospel.
Aaron Summers serves as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Crowley, TX. He and his wife Dulcie have 2 kids in college and enjoy traveling in their RV.