One of the most difficult questions for any leader in any field is when to move on. Issues related to succession are some of the most delicate conversations ever engaged in. Yet having at least some ideas or plans for the future can save those coming after much pain. Yes, it may cause us in present leadership pain and fear of losing control, but we need to go through it for the next generation.
I just finished an excellent book that deals in depth with many issues of succession and what’s next. It is titled Next: Pastoral Succession That Works, by William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird. (You can order it through Worldchristian.com) As the title suggests, it is primarily focused on Pastors particularly in North America. The authors are aware of this and do have a few examples from other countries, including Singapore. I found myself wishing for a broader book that also dealt with missions and non-profits, where I have spent over 37 years.
But having said that, the principles in this book are invaluable for many fields. The question of what’s next is one for all of us. None of us avoid the future. None of us will live forever. If we do not take seriously the need to pray and plan for the future, we are leaving that to those after us. The authors relate many examples where the lack of a succession plan led to chaos after. In fact, I appreciated that the authors are intentional to bring stories both positive and negative. Their tone in the stories is not salacious or gossipy, but with a teaching purpose.
In the section mentioning Edmund Chan of Singapore, (pg. 118-119), the importance of not delaying a transition is cited. Chan says, “The longer I delay the transition, the shorter a runway my successors would have to successfully transit to the third generation.” Chan is not just thinking of who will come next after him, but who will come after that!! Thinking into the third and even fourth generations.
Who will succeed us is a very important question. In my own ministry career of 37 years so far, I have turned over different leadership roles around 6 major times, and other minor leadership roles as well. It is never easy, because each time requires a discernment to know the right timing and season. And of course to know the right person or team. It has at times left me with the pain of a loss of identity.
But to hold on too long is so much worse. What is next for you? When is it time to move on? Who is to follow you? What does the future look like?
Difficult questions. But so worth the asking for the sake of the generations to come after us.