Maybe it’s my age, or my sense of legacy, but I need to be sure now that my life’s work will pass to the next generation, and flourish. My succession plan must be more than a brave hope and bunch of concerns – my life’s work is at stake.
I’m hearing positive talk, yet watching leaders make grave mistakes, hearing great theories yet watching them pass their batons to impostors – by desperate abandonment, by bad timing, by bad advice from other leaders, and most embarrassing, discovering in the end that they don’t have a successor. (Two thirds of family businesses in Canada end with the first generation because the kids won’t, or can’t, carry on.)
Do you own property, programs and groups of people? These don’t seem to transition so well – they get changed into something we didn’t intend once we’ve released ownership to our youngers. I don’t want to be the pastor who builds a great ministry to watch my successor unbuild it – and I will be watching, even from my grave. And I’ll be extremely disappointed if I used the wrong strategy, got the wrong guy, didn’t train him well enough, or he got proud.
Here’s some bad advice: “Let go completely”, “Keep a firm grip”, “There should be a committee”, or “Just leave it to the Lord”. Such advice is irrelevant and bad because succession is not a simple inheritance of property, programs and people.
So what is it? Some might see succession as passing on a business, a church, or ministry; but for me, it’s the future of a life-long call that gathers and builds disciples from the nations. We are an apostolic organism, a family of creative people with one heart – to reach and disciple people who need Jesus and desire His purpose for their lives. Although we employ property and programs, what I am really passing on is something deeper. And how well I pass it on is measured by how well discipleship continues to happen.
This isn’t about the real estate, but a spiritual stake we’ve driven into the ground, not programs but the organism of discipleship, it’s not fame, but influence, not the multitude of people but the rising leaders who are called out by this vision to reach those multitudes. It’s the thing that got us here, built the buildings, attracted the people – it’s our God given, purpose borne, vision.
Succession fails when leaders bequeath the wrong thing – their namesake, perpetuation of their ideas, protection of their acquisitions, and other earth-bound treasures, and then choose a person or a system that can securely manage these in their absence. Are we so foolish to build with vision and then trust the future to politics? Adoniram Judson invested his life into planting churches across the mountains of southeast Asia; thousands of wonderful churches. A plan was then put in place that has perpetuated the succession of property and leadership for 200 years – and killed the vision. The visionaries who are planting and growing churches in those mountains today find the old plan to be their biggest hindrance. The bottom line on the sign in front of the Judson Baptist Church in Rangoon reads; “Opposes liberalism, modernism, ecumenism, formalism and worldliness.” See anything wrong with this vision statement?
Coming up: ‘It’s too late to start now’, a ‘how to’ pass on your vision.
Know of any good books or resources on succession, tried and proven stuff?