Passing The Mantle: Securing Your Life’s Work
By J. E. Yonts Sr.
Many pastors spend a lifetime raising up and pastoring a church. They give the best years of their life in faithful service to that church. As the years go by and as age takes its toll, the vision may be strong but the energies to accompany that vision slowly ebb away. Often, the pastor clings to his position even though his effectiveness has greatly diminished.
A vibrant, growing church demands progressive thinking and cutting edge leadership. Anything less will cause growth to stalemate and the church to plateau. Soon the church is populated with mostly seniors and it becomes a dying congregation. This is a sad plight and should not happen to a pastor and his church. The torch needs to be passed to the next runner who can carry it across the finish line.
Passing your mantle to a younger man so he can carry on what you have begun is a sure way of knowing that your labor of love will live on after you are gone. This process has definite biblical foundations. The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob each received and passed a special blessing to the next generation. The high priest ordained his eldest son to fill his office. Joshua succeeded Moses. The apostle Paul endorsed the Ephesian elders to carry on the work that he had begun in Ephesus. Elijah passed his mantle on to Elisha when his earthly ministry was finished. A biblical principle has been established, but there are existing circumstances to carefully consider when the choice of who is made.
Elijah gave Elisha the mantle on his departure and the transaction was over. However, the circumstance of changing the pastorate of a church and endorsing the new leadership is a much more complicated situation and involves a thorough understanding and agreement. Many things must be considered, such as: timing, finances, authority, privileges, church leadership, and acceptance by the local church.
The question to a senior pastor who is facing the aging process is: How and when do you plan on passing your mantle, and to whom?
Timing Is Important
There are several signs that will help the senior pastor recognize that he is losing his effectiveness:
1 Many of the exciting events occurred yesterday.
2 Many of his sermons are about memories of the past.
3 He struggles to preach fresh, challenging sermons.
4 He no longer has sufficient energy to give dynamic leadership to the church.
5 Church growth plateaus and remains static.
6 The congregation is increasingly becoming of retirement age.
7 His get-up-and-go got up and went.
The Change Should Be Evolutionary
The senior pastor must accept several facts:
1 Some changes may be made by the new pastor.
2 The congregation will gradually give their loyalty to the new pastor.
3 The authority will also shift into the hands of the new pastor.
4 The new pastor will probably inspire fresh faith and out-reach, resulting in growth.
5 A building program may involve disposal of a building in which you have bestowed much labor.
6 A new lineup of guest speakers may be preaching in the pulpit.
7 The activities, which you per-formed for years, will be executed without your leadership.
Authority Must Be Transmitted With The Title Of Pastor
A senior pastor should be careful not to make promises that he does not keep. Under proper circumstances, the church should see the gradual change from that of a father image (retiring pastor) to that of a captain (younger pastor). Such was the case of Moses and Joshua. The new pastor should be voted on by the congregation using a secret ballot. No incoming pastor would be wise to accept the position when a bare mini-mum of the people vote for him.
There are many situations where problems can arise:
1 The senior pastor fails to release authority.
2 The senior pastor changes his mind.
3 The senior pastor resents the popularity of the new pastor. Without the church’s favor, the new pastor cannot be their leader.
4 The senior pastor’s wife has difficulty with the transition because she does not want to be displaced as first lady of the church.
5 There is not a clear understanding between everyone involved or the understanding is not written and agreed upon by all partners.
6 The incoming pastor becomes overanxious to assume the full authority as pastor before the agreed time.
The New Pastor’s Character
A senior pastor should carefully consider the qualifications of the per-son who is to succeed him, especially if he has not worked closely with that person over a period of time. The new pastor should be:
1 A genuine Christian with a history of faithfulness.
2 A praying man.
3 A man of character and good reputation.
4 An energetic man who is not afraid of hard work.
5 A person with good people skills.
6 A person who is capable of handling finances and who will be accountable. He should not be someone who keeps his credit cards maxed-out, as he will probably be overseeing large sums of money. Good preachers are not always good money managers.
7 A kind person.
8 A man with a shepherd’s heart.
9 A good family man with a good wife and obedient children.
10 A man who loves the Word.
11 A man with deep biblical convictions which agree with those of the senior pastor, especially concerning doctrine and holiness.
12 A man that will buy into the vision of a progressive church.
13 A man that will become accountable to God, the church, and to others. No man is
As senior pastor, you tan only know these qualifications by working closely with a person over a period of time. The selection of the wrong per-son as your successor can result in the destruction of a lifetime of labor in a brief period of time. The new pastor could become dictatorial. He may fail to lead the flock, or he could lead the church away from its foundational doctrines and practices. Trusted elders can become a stabilizing force during transition and be a blessing to both the new pastor and the congregation.
Often the succeeding pastor is a per-son who has been in the congregation for a long period of time. He is trusted and revered by the congregation. This situation is ideal, but if a new pastor is sought and installed from the outside, all parties should agree upon a clear understanding. This agreement should signed by all involved and should include things such as:
1 Possible termination of agreement if all terms of the agreement are not met,
2 The extent to which the senior pastor is stepping down,
3 Whether there is an acceptable financial agreement between the church and the senior pastor,
4 Who lives in the parsonage (if one is owned) and for how long,
5 When and to what extend does the pastoral authority shift.
6 Who does the preaching or teaching,
7 Who determines the church schedules and the calendar,
8 Who leads the annual planning session,
9 Who selects the guest speakers,
10 Who officiates at funerals and weddings,
11 Who is responsible for hospital calls,
12 What is the income of the new pastor,
13 Who is the one with the final authority.
If the incoming pastor has agreed upon an internship, time of service and dates of completion should be established. He should have a complete job description detailing his title, responsibilities, extent of his authority, privileges granted, days off, vacations, and allotted time for preaching in other churches. A good agreement can avoid future friction.
In all this, mistakes will often appear and must be dealt with in a fashion pleasing to God. Both parties must be diligent in building trust and a strong, lasting relationship to each other. As Abraham said to Lot when there was trouble between the herds-men, “Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee… for we be brethren” (Genesis 13:8).
This article “Passing The Mantle Securing Your Life’s Work” written by J. E. Yonts Sr. is excerpted from Forward Magazine a July/August 2007 edition.