Getting to Your Next

Pastor Adam Hamilton and I with Rev. Olu Brown at our first Young Pastors' Network event that Adam and I hosted in 2008. Olu leads Impact Church, a growing, multicultural faith community in Metropolitan Atlanta. Looking forward to my "next" of investing into more young leaders of leaders like Olu. 

Eight weeks and three days from now, I will preach my last message as lead pastor of Ginghamsburg Church. As one of the earliest United Methodist mega churches to experience a senior pastor transition, Ginghamsburg, my successor Chris Heckaman and I are under a bit of a microscope. Folks, especially my peers who are behind me by five to ten years, see us as a case study. Here’s what I’ve learned so far, using the acronym NEXT to provide some handholds.

N: Name God’s next
God anoints leaders to birth and lead movements. Pastors of missional movements aren’t exceptional; they are anointed.  As Carolyn always reminded me if I started to get a big head. “If God can speak through Balaam’s donkey, I guess he can speak through you.” My mantra has always been, “Take the gospel seriously, not myself.” As leaders, it’s our job to recognize and name God’s anointed who should succeed us.  In our case, Chris first heard me speak when he was a college student 31 years ago. He has been a student of Ginghamsburg for decades and been immersed in our DNA. Wesley recognized his Asbury, Paul found and mentored his Timothy and Elijah threw his coat around Elisha. Are you preparing to name God’s next?

E: Evaluate the long-term effectiveness of your potential successor
In the business world they state that past performance predicts future success. It’s true. What has your potential successor been able to plant or grow? I have found 7 “C” words invaluable in the evaluation (discernment) process:

  • Character – Like King David in Psalm 78, does he or she have skill of hand and integrity of heart – both in ministry and in his or her own home?
  • Complexity – How has he or she functioned within complex systems? Mega churches are complex, not single cell organisms. Is your successor prepared?
  • Creativity – Is this person capable of innovation? Ginghamsburg has been 17 different churches since I started here. A one-trick pony will struggle to keep up.
  • Change – How well does the potential successor adapt to and lead change?
  • Communication – For a ministry to be vibrant and growing, the leader must be an effective communicator.
  • Courage – You can’t lead a movement by committee. That’s why God directs Joshua as Moses’ successor four times in the Book of Joshua to have courage – and that’s just in chapter 1.
  • Contrast – Recognize the difference in leadership styles and know your people will need some time to adapt. I am a “thus sayeth the Lord” kind of leader. Chris is much more of a consensus builder. That is one reason why this one-year of overlap we have worked through has been crucial.

X: Execution
Two years ago this summer I named the date that I would step down. I knew that God was calling me to refocus my ministry on developing the next generation of leaders. Our leadership board and I immediately started partnering with our Bishop on a process. Remember, a vision without an executable strategy is just a wish list. Within a few months, Chris had been confirmed as Ginghamsburg’s next.

T: Transition
If you are a leader, God has given you more vision than you can accomplish in your lifetime. Your vision has to be bigger than you. Otherwise, you will not be ready for a “next” when the time arises. It will be too tempting to try to cling to the past instead of anticipating what is yet to be. Moses has always been my inspirational example. “Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone” (Deuteronomy 34:7). My new God vision is to plant 1000 churches by 2050. In 2050 I will be almost 100 years old! That’s more churches than Ginghamsburg can single-handedly birth, but I can get there by equipping young leaders. That’s why this August I am offering Basecamp, a training intensive for up and coming leaders of leaders who are serious about Kingdom growth. (Learn more.)

One thing I know for sure - Your NEXT will be here quick. Will you be ready? 

Recent Comments

What an amazing journey Dr. Slaughter! Thank you for sharing your life with many of us! We are indebted to God for your testimony and witness. How I wish I could be there to glean from you. I was once on the verge of considering leaving ministry and seek a refuge outside of the religious sector. Reading and learning from men like yourself refreshes my soul!!!

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