next_succession_churchWilliam Vanderbloemen is the President and Founder at The Vanderbloemen Search Group and specializes in recruiting and matching leaders with faith-based organizations. We’ve met several times before and jumped at the opportunity to talk to him about hisinsightful book on church leadership succession, Next. Here’s the interview, enjoy and be sure to pick up a copy today:

You seem uniquely positioned to write a book like this. Tell us about the inspiration for the project.

William: It really comes down to one sentence: Every pastor is an interim pastor.

Why? Because unless you plan on pastoring your church after Jesus returns, every church will have to face the reality of a leadership transition. Most pastors and church leaders don’t have a plan for what would happen if the pastor couldn’t lead their church this Sunday. Many church leaders equate succession planning to retirement planning. However, smart church leaders realize that succession planning is much more than that. We hope that this book will be a conversation starter and a guide for pastors and church boards as they look to the inevitable reality of transition.

Why are churches so resistant to leadership challenges like succession? 

William: Succession has been a bit of a taboo topic for far too long. What we found in our research for Next is that no career ties identity to job more than the pastorate. What other job coincides with more key parts of life? Who else performs their daughter’s wedding at work? Who else buries longtime friends as part of their job? What other career ties personal spiritual formation to career performance? It is a difficult job to leave because our identity as a pastor is tied to our church, but this is why focusing on leaving a legacy through a healthy succession plan from day one in the pastorate matters so much.

Pastors who talk about their departure ahead of time have been mistaken for pastors who are on their way out or considering a move. Part of the reason I teamed up with Warren Bird to write this book was to facilitate and normalize that conversation between pastors and church boards.

What’s the biggest mistake you see as pastors transition? And the biggest mistake churches make at the same time? 

William: The biggest mistake both pastors and churches make regarding succession is not talking about it soon enough. One golden rule of succession planning is that it’s never too early to start. I would be thrilled if pastors in their 30’s bought this book and began planning now. When I was a young pastor, John Maxwell told me, “William, spend your younger years creating options for your later years.” I believe that more than ever now. My dream is to see pastors, leadership teams, and board members read this book together and answer the guiding questions.

Another mistake pastors make is not talking about (and planning for) finances soon enough. Honestly, churches ought to be paying pastors more, and should be providing more long term financial planning for pastors so that retirement is a viable option. Too often, the pastor just cannot afford to retire, and that leads to staying in the pulpit too long.

Finally, a critical error we noticed is pastors staying in the pulpit too long. Too often pastors stay at a church not because they’re thriving but because they don’t have anything else to put their passion into. Having a plan for how you will spend your energy after you leave your church is crucial to a healthy succession. Chapter 4 of Next helps pastors frame when it’s time to move on from your present place of service, but the more fundamental issue is figuring out what you should do next in God’s big picture for your life.

One of the most significant trends we saw was how much of a good succession rises and falls on the outgoing pastor’s spouse. There are a number of great stories in the book that highlight this. Smart churches will pay attention to that dynamic and find ways to address it as they face transitions.

For those that will be moving up into that position in the future, what are some gaps in leadership or experience many leaders in the church are missing today?

William: I think two characteristics that are key to anyone in leadership, but especially those in the pastorate are agility and emotional intelligence.

We talk a lot about agility at Vanderbloemen Search Group and look for this characteristic in candidates we interview. Whether you’re on staff at a growing megachurch or on staff at a small rural church, you’re going to have to wear a lot of hats. There will always be more to do in ministry than manpower, time, and money allow. A great leader must be versatile, since ministry often calls for he or she to act outside of their job description. 

Emotional intelligence is another key characteristic that we interview for when we’re considering candidates for our clients. Great leaders must be hyper aware of their own emotional health as well as have the relational intelligence to anticipate their teams’ emotional health.

Tell us about what’s next for you! (get it … next! Hahahaha)

William: Hilarious! I’ll be speaking at several conferences this fall including Collyde Conference in NJ and Exponential West in Southern California. I’ll also begin working on my next book (get it?) this fall. And of course, we’ll always be 100% focused on helping our clients find great staff.

Thanks for your time, William! Check out the book’s official site right here!