By Scott M. Douglas
As the Boomer generation of pastors begins their transition to retirement, a large number of Millennial pastors are poised to assume these positions of leadership. A 2012 LifeWay Research study found that 35% of pastors were either at retirement age or within 10 years or less of retirement, while only 11% of pastors surveyed were under age 35.
Just like in coaching where many head coaching positions are filled by assistant coaches, as retiring pastors transition out of ministry their positions will likely be filled by those currently serving as associate pastors, youth ministers, interns, or other roles. So what can outgoing pastors do to prepare and train a ready leadership base to step in and effectively serve in churches?
Here are 11 practices I’ve found to be successful in churches who have managed these situations well:
- Hire well – Before any leadership development can happen, a lead pastor needs to make sure that the right people are on his staff. Making the right hire, doing the background work, and ensuring the candidate is a good fit are much more important than filling a role. Bring on an associate pastor you can work with comfortably, who will stretch you, but above all who is qualified, competent, and above reproach.
- Give them opportunities – Allow staff to fill the pulpit, even if you’re not leaving town; give them chances to sit in meetings that affect the overall direction of the church; find ways to stretch them beyond their particular ministry focus. and allow them to be a part of the pastoral team, including making hospital visits and doing pastoral care. As you give them opportunities, you validate their ability as ministers and create a culture within the church that sees the younger staff in a pastoral light, not as glorified babysitters (a feeling many of those in student ministry are all too familiar with).
- Give them freedom & flexibility – When you bring staff onto the team, give them the freedom to do what they’ve been called to. Don’t watch over their shoulders. Allow them the flexibility to fulfill the calling they have and what the church has affirmed. You don’t need to micromanage if you hired well, and as you evaluate staff, give them the freedom to self-diagnose their own performances.
- Create specific goals – What are you trying to do? What is expected of your staff? You need to establish clear goals, both professional and personal, that you can use to help them grow. Don’t waste their time or yours; be working towards something.
- Become friends – If you only communicate with your staff while you’re in the office, you’re missing an opportunity to really invest in them and their families. When I started my first full-time ministry position, our pastor invested in me and my wife as if we were his own family. It helped us to grow together as a couple and to be more effective in our ministry. I also learned more from him over sandwiches at a dive restaurant than I ever did in his office.
- Keep it informal – Leadership development doesn’t happen from a book, it happens through relationships. Jesus took 12 rag-tag fishermen and never once had them read a book; he developed them through relationships and equipping. Have an open-door policy for your staff, giving them access to you. So much of your impact in their lives will happen in these spontaneous discussions and opportunities to coach them. But even in those conversations, make sure there is an intentional focus to help them grow, not just to shoot the breeze.
- Lead, don’t micromanage – Words like “equip,” “empower,” “enable,” and “encourage” should describe what you do with your staff. The first point of hiring well should ensure that you don’t need to look over their shoulders. This stifles their growth and ability to execute, and it diminishes your ability to make a lasting impact in their lives.
- Encourage balance – Do not sacrifice family on the altar of ministry. Lead pastor, you need to model what it means to be a husband and father for your ministry team. Do not place unnecessary burdens on yourself or your team that prevent them from being with their family. Make marriage & family health a part of your performance evaluation, and encourage your team to take time off following intense periods in the life of the church (after VBS, camp, etc.), and to take vacation.
- Value character – Ensure that your team members are above reproach, protect them from even the appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22). Take a long look at your policy manual, do you protect yourself and your team in counseling situations? Do you have parameters in place to ensure staff members are never alone with members of the opposite sex? Do you have monitoring/accountability software on work computers? Do you encourage and promote spiritual disciplines in the life of your ministry team?
- Embrace generational differences – The entire leadership team should embrace, celebrate, and work together in areas where generation, experience, and age might foster different viewpoints. One part of my job was to serve as our interim pastor’s technology help desk. He still hand wrote everything, kept his appointments in a black book, and never understood why I used my iPhone for everything. These differences are good because they model the gospel (Galatians 3:26-29) and they allow for sharpening (Proverbs 27:17) of one another. Younger team members need to learn from the example, experience, and wisdom of their mentors; and the mentors need to remember they once were young, inexperienced, and mistake-prone.
- Humility above all – I’ve talked to many staff members who said they were unable to do much in the church because their lead pastor was intimidated by them and did not like having a younger person who might outshine them. I’ve also talked to older pastors who struggled to deal with the younger guys on their staff because they thought they knew it all and didn’t need the experience of the older pastor. Neither of these attitudes honor God or reflect the gospel. As Jesus gave the example of humility in leadership in Matthew 20, humility needs to permeate all the interactions and activities on the pastoral staff.
Do you have any practices or examples to add?