Leadership Succession From Within

This blog posting is a follow-up to the previous one I wrote, and I am calling it: Leadership Succession from Within. I wrote this article some 10 years ago for Georgetown Baptist Church’s 50th Anniversary magazine (2006). I have made some minor edits to make it more appropriate for the blog. I believe it is worth a read and  careful thought.

Succession Planning

Many churches start well, but when the pioneers or the pastors move on—the church starts to falter. This may last for years, until it is able to engage another capable pastor. The momentum, however, that had been built up during the previous pastor’s tenure is all but lost, and the new pastor has to practically start from ground zero.

To their credit, the leaders of Georgetown Baptist Church did well to keep the church going when the previous pastor left for Petaling Jaya: ably organizing themselves to provide pastoral care for the whole church and then still had the time, energy and vision to plant a new church in another part of the city.

It was not until December 1993, almost four years later, that I became GBC’s next pastor. Imagine how much more the church would have developed if there had not been such a gap—if there had been another pastor who immediately took over. Not just any pastor, but a pastor who had been groomed from within the church. Engaging someone from outside would mean time for the new pastor and the church to get to know and trust each other. Inevitably, I had to start almost from the ground. As a result the church hardly saw any numerical growth in the first four years of my tenure.

Before I left I was determined that this would not happen again; that there would be a pastor groomed up from within GBC and waiting in the wings to take over…. In such a situation there might still be hiccups, but certainly much less. This is because the succeeding pastor already understands the philosophy of ministry and vision of the church, he has worked with the church leadership, the members know him and have “taken to him”. Not that he will simply carry on doing everything that the previous pastor has done. Any good pastor will definitely introduce change, but he will have the advantage of building on the blocks—blocks that he has helped to develop in the first place.

Leaders must never fear raising up other leaders; even if it means that some of them will outshine us! That was what I aimed for. My goal was to pass the church into the hands of better men and women.

Paul was a great apostle—some say, the greatest. But in my mind Barnabas was the greater man. He recruited Paul because he saw Paul’s potential. He mentored Paul and wasn’t afraid that Paul might overtake him. Eventually when Paul did, he wasn’t concerned for his own face. My hope is to be a Barnabas to some Pauls.

Success is not about growing a great church. “Success” is about having a “successor” to take the church even further.

Leadership Succession

In recent weeks I attended two very significant events. The first was the celebration of the life and ministry of Pr. Dr. Daniel Ho, who at the age of 65 stepped down as the Senior Pastor of Damansara Utama Methodist Church. The second was the celebration of Georgetown Baptist Church’s  60th Anniversary and dedication of their new building with a seating capacity for 1,200 people.

Close-up on the Hand of a Male Athlete Passing a Relay Baton to Another Athlete, With a Dramatic Sky in the Background

Daniel Ho’s readiness to step down as the SP of DUMC, a church he co-founded and led for more than 30 years, and which has grown into a mega church, is a testimony to his humility and leadership philosophy. Too many pastors (including lay leaders/elders) don’t know how to let go. And that is one of the reasons for the stagnation or even decline among some churches.

However, Daniel Ho had worked hard on the development of the leadership for the next and even later generations. He had been grooming his young lieutenants for a long time, and over the last couple of years he had taken deliberate steps to transit the leadership of DUMC to the designated successor, Chris Kam.

It’s the stories of Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Paul and Timothy played out in our contemporary church scene.

I cannot claim to have been as intentional as the Biblical examples or Daniel Ho, but I did my bit at GBC. After 13 years as the SP I felt I was no longer the right person to take the church to the next level. GBC needed someone fresh, more able and with greater energy. I believed that Ng Kok Aun was God’s man. In fact it was by my encouragement that he had stepped into the full-time ministry eight years earlier. And during that time as we served together he had proven himself faithful and able.

At the point of transition, Kok Aun may not have been fully ready to assume the role of GBC’s SP (my fault due to lack of foresight), but 10 years later it is evident that he is God’s man for this season. The church has grown; it is healthy, strong and united. And one of the evidences for this is the new church building.

I strongly believe that there is a huge need for intentional leadership succession in the church today. Pastors and church leaders need to identify and intentionally raise up their successors. Secondly, a pastor or church leader must not overstay his time, especially if he is the main leader of the church. When he is no longer the man to lead the church he should be ready to admit it and step out. If a pastor is not prepared to do the latter he will not do the former. This calls for humility and honesty, as a pastor listens for the leading of the Lord during the different seasons of his life and ministry. It may be time to go and for his successor to take over.

We must think long term, we must think into the next and later generations; for without succession there can no long term success into the future generations.

Read next about “Leadership Succession from Within”.