Successful Succession - Providing for Tomorrow’s Saints Today

The long-anticipated pastoral shortage has arrived, though it’s only just beginning. Things are about to get exponentially more challenging, both for congregations and the pastors called to serve them. But fear not! There are many healthy things that congregations can do as they move into this new reality. One of the best is to plan for pastoral succession.

The Bible is filled with examples of ministry succession: Moses to Joshua, Elijah to Elisha, Paul to Timothy, etc. Even Jesus has entrusted His Church to us as we serve Him and share His love with others.

In the days of old, pastors would typically serve until retirement, put in a month’s notice, and trust that the denomination they belonged to would provide for the congregation going forward by sending them their next pastor.  Those days are gone.

LCMC is not a denomination. We are an association of independent Lutheran congregations. Additionally, there are already not enough pastors to go around (and this is true in every branch of the Christian faith). As such, pastors and congregations need to be planning for their future. In this sense, every pastor is an interim pastor. From the first day of a new call, each pastor and the congregation they serve should be thinking about the long-term health of the congregation because, Lord willing, a congregation’s current pastor will not be their last.

So, what can you be doing to ensure your congregation stays healthy, viable and is set up for ministry success? We will be writing about a number of possibilities in future articles, but to get this thought process started, I would like to share one example of what a successful pastoral succession looks like. It is a story that I cherish because it happened in my home congregation.

Spirit of Hope Lutheran Church in Parker, CO was founded in the spring of 2010. Rev. David Fisher was called to be the founding pastor. He and the congregation did all the hard work of establishing a brand-new congregation. Many of you know the joy, pain, and challenges that occur on such a journey.

Spirit of Hope began as a house church. My family and I joined this beautiful little congregation in 2011. Over the years we, like you, have strived to remain faithful to God and His Word, to serve our community and one another, and to focus on being the hands and feet of Jesus out in the world. We also constructed a church building. That process took us eight years. But we give thanks and praise to God for His faithfulness. His timing is always perfect.

While on this journey, Pastor Fisher and the congregation believed I was called to become a pastor (that’s a big step for a middle-aged former LCMS girl!). They raised me up, prayed for me, and supported me on my seminary journey. Shortly before I was ordained, Pastor Dave asked me if I might consider entering into a pastoral succession plan with him. This was not actually in “our” plan (yes, I picture God laughing when we talk about “our plans”!) as I was already knee-deep in a call process elsewhere. We prayed and discussed this possibility, went to the Church Board, who then went to the congregation. Long story short, God’s plans are the only ones that matter. And His plan for Spirit of Hope was that we would enter into a ten-month pastoral succession.

For the first three months, Pastor Fisher remained the senior pastor while I served as the associate pastor. The next four months we co-pastored, though always with an eye to helping the congregation turn a healthy corner. The remainder of the time I served as the senior pastor while Pastor Fisher remained on staff as a pastor but in a support role before gracefully and completely passing the baton.

In fact, pastoral succession is much like an Olympic relay race. Initially the baton holder is running the track. At the appropriate time, the next runner has to pick-up speed to match the first runner. Then the baton is passed and the second runner continues down the track as the first runner slows down and eventually rests.

Ten months was the right amount of time for us to make all the exchanges we needed to make. We did everything together so that the ministry of the congregation would not skip a beat. Oh – and we did this amid the COVID pandemic! Honestly, though, it was beautiful. God was glorified. The congregation is healthy and thriving. There is now a deep trust between me as the pastor and my brothers and sisters in the congregation, which allows God to take us all deeper and deeper into a trusting relationship with Him.

All of this is because one pastor listened to God’s call to enter into a pastoral succession. Could he have served longer? Absolutely! But he also knew that just because he could, didn’t mean he should. Instead, he looked toward the long-term health of the congregation he loved. Thanks be to God!

In the future, we will write more articles that share additional details about pastoral succession, the raising up of future pastors and church leaders and other important things congregations can be doing now to prepare for the future. Until then, go in peace and serve the Lord!


 

Wendy Poch is the pastor of Spirit of Hope Lutheran Church in Parker, CO. She received her MDiv from the Institute of Lutheran Theology, is working on her DMin at Western Theological Seminary, and serves on LCMC’s Ministry Board.

 

 

 

 

Share this post

Log in to add a comment

Click Here For Content Archives