Four Steps to Healthy Leadership Succession

Recently, Josh Surratt, lead pastor of Seacoast Church joined Trent on the Decisions podcast to talk about the healthy leadership succession that took place in his church and ministry. We hope this insight informs your decisions and offers helpful strategies in the midst of transition.

Leadership succession. Even in the best of circumstances, it can get messy.

We see it in churches, organizations, and even throughout scripture. For example, King David’s son Absalom was trying to take over a position that was never given to him, and it created major problems. On the other hand, King Saul was holding onto something that was no longer his. His anointing was over – the people knew it, his spiritual advisors knew it, and deep down, King Saul knew it too.

So whether you’re the one passing the baton or the one running with it, it’s vitally important to approach these seasons with transparency and integrity.

Here’s a good place to start:
  1. Develop a plan.

Some leaders will simply walk into a room, make a flippant decision, walk out, and that is that. This approach neglects relationships, accountability, and wisdom. Having a succession process in place involves talking to others, thinking through options, collaborating, and keeping communication lines open.

It helps to begin having these conversations long before it’s time for a transition. Be strategic when it comes to the people you talk to, but begin forming a plan and a process early on. And if you don’t know where to start, there are people out there who specialize in this process and can help you.

More than anything, have the mindset that says, “There is going to come a day when I’m no longer the leader here. So the natural and prudent thing to do is to prepare for it.”

  1. Have patience.

If you’re waiting to step into leadership, you’re likely to wrestle with patience. It’s a difficult balance due to all the emotions involved. You have a strong urge and desire to use your gifts and skills, but your season has not yet come.

Never try to accelerate God’s timeline or kick down a door He hasn’t yet opened.

Remember: God knows. He sees your desires, He knows what you’re capable of, and His timing is always perfect.

So much of King David’s leadership was formed in those fields of obscurity when he didn’t have a title, but he did have an anointing. His character was being shaped and developed in every season, preparing him for the next one.

  1. Be intentional.

There’s wisdom in being intentional in the way you’re leading the person coming after you. Are you putting them in positions to experience things they will need in their tool bag when they step into that role? Are you giving them opportunities to fail in ways that will be beneficial for them long term? Are you giving them experiences they will need as part of their repertoire?

You can be intentional in that process without holding a meeting and telling everyone about the future transition. Too many leaders think that if they touch the topic of succession, they’ve activated something and everyone is going to know and a plan must now be revealed. That’s just not the case. You can be intentional while that process is still percolating internally, even long term.

Think about it this way: How can I lead in such a way that when the time comes for me to pass the baton, I’m setting up the next generation to run faster and further than we did?

  1. Show honor.

Consider what your predecessor has done. Consider what they have been through. Consider the sacrifices that were made to get where they are. If you were in those shoes, how would you want the person coming after you to act? How would you want them to view you?

Publicly and privately honoring the person who came before you creates a sense of security in the people that you’re leading. Humbly expressing how grateful you are is healthy and right.

But it’s important to remember that this combination of patience and honor doesn’t mute your calling. You’re not suppressing your gifts in the process. You are still very much leaning into the ways that God has gifted and wired you, but the difference is, you’re doing it on His timetable.

Not yours. 

For more helpful strategies and insight into leadership transitions, listen to the Decisions podcast episode, Developing a Healthy Succession Plan with Pastor Josh Surratt.

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