Retire With a Slow Fizzle

Retire With a Slow Fizzle
Tom Harper

When you retire, it should be all about your successor. It’s been about you long enough.
“I will be with you, just as I was with Moses. I will not leave you or forsake you.” Joshua 1:5 Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries wrote extensively about the “retirement syndrome.” He said loss of status, recognition, and income, along with physical aging and emotional stress, can make letting go a bitter, depressing experience, forcing many to cling to power indefinitely. Perhaps the greatest biblical retirement example is Moses, who smoothly propelled his successor, Joshua, into authority. Similar transitions have been successfully emulated in modern times.

In 1981, Jack Welch became CEO of GE at the age of 45. At 58, with seven years to go before his planned retirement, Welch began searching for his replacement. “From now on, choosing my successor is the most important decision I’ll make,” he said.

Bob Russell, the 40-year senior minister of 18,000-member Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., also began succession planning seven years before his retirement. He started sharing the pulpit with associate minister Dave Stone a little more every year. Finally, after a flurry of retirement parties, roasts, public accolades, gifts and emotional sermons, Russell handed the reins to his protege. Like Joshua, Stone had been at his commander’s side for many years, and most of the congregation followed their new leader without hesitation.

The lessons of this smooth transition are many:

Pass the baton at full speed. He explains that in a relay race, the runner receiving the baton cranks up to full speed before taking over, with the goal of gaining a step in the transfer. In the same way, the new leader should already be running hard when he or she takes command.

Bow gracefully and leave the building. Russell didn’t visit his church for a full year after his retirement. He wisely gave the new minister center stage. Plus, when Russell saw that his ongoing presence would stretch out the letting-go process, he shortened his exit by a few months.

Force the fizzle. Whenever he accepted awards and applause, his every word of appreciation pointed to how great Stone was going to be. He consistently pushed the spotlight off himself.

Go early and stay free. After 40 years in the same church, Russell was still in his early 60s when he retired. He’s doing many things he long dreamed about but never had the freedom to pursue.

A gracious exit relieves the bitterness and regret of retiring. When we plan our departure, we have time to open the door to longstanding dreams. We can look to our twilight years with anticipation rather than trepidation.

This article “Retire With a Slow Fizzle” was excerpted from: Leading from the Lions’ Den: Leadership Principles from Every Book of the Bible by Tom Harper (B&H, 2010) Posted June 2011 on web site. It may be used for study & research purposes only.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”