The iconic championship game is over and now the press accounts are pouring in.  Since the Patriots won – the narrative goes that the wise old fox Tom Brady was able to use his experience and composure to guide the Patriots to their sixth Super Bowl victory. Of course, had the Rams won there is no doubt in my mind that the narrative would have been all about about the supplanting of the old ageing warrior by the younger challenger Jared Goff with the more lively throwing arm.  That rendition may be on hold until next year….

Every leader’s tenure plays out over an extended arc.  In ministry, too often the focus and thrust of a long-time senior pastor’s ministry becomes about preserving their authority versus the provision for a smooth transition when the time comes for the long-time pastor to retire.  In United Methodism, the old school appointment methodology basically called for the predecessor to be feted, honored, thanked, and then “go gently into the good night” with the understanding being that they would not interfere with their successor.  I can recall a bishop talking about meeting with the staff-parish committee of a large United Methodist church. Upon the untimely death of their senior minister, the committee (after a respectful period of time) composed a plan to form a search  committee  and visit a laundry list of “big steeple” churches throughout the jurisdiction.  The bishop listened to the plan in it’s enitirety and then responded by saying,”Well that’s great that you could be so industrious and creative. …Now would you like to hear what’s really going to happen?” Then he proceeded to inform them of the name of their new pastor.  That’s old school!!

More and more large churches – with the cooperation of their respective bishop- are grooming young associate pastors to eventually take over when the senior minister retires.  While this might be perceived as a means of discounting episcopal authority, the benefits are considerable:  the new senior minister is already well known by the congregation and conversely the new senior minister knows the traditions and history of that church.  Further, the prospect of a “win-lose” tension between predecessor and successor is greatly reduced.  Finally, the retiring senior minister may remain available for advice of expertise. In this way, the church gets the benefit of “old school” veteran experience AND young energy and perspective.

The creative tension between “wily old foxes” and “young Turks” will remain but that’s no reason that the Church shouldn’t embrace a methodology that optimizes the strengths of both.

Article by Dr. John Fiedler

Director of Mark Craig Leadership Network, Preaching Associate Minister at HPMUC


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