Book Spotlight : Transition Plan – Chapter 1, My Story

In the opening chapter, Bob Russell shares his journey of seeing the need to start making plans for his transition at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.

The excerpts below are direct quotes from the book.  I included the page number for your reference.

Chapter 1, My Story

The inordinate focus on one man forced us all to ask, “Is the church built on the Pastor, or is it really built on Jesus Christ?” – page 17

I believed with all my heart that what God had anointed Southeast to do was too important to allow ego or lack of vision to interrupt it. – page 17

…most any plan can work if the people involved are ready and willing to sacrifice their egos. – page 23

In retrospect, my retirement was made a lot easier because the planning took much of the emotion out of it. – page 25

Humor and humility were two essential virtues in making the transition successful. – page 28

The final decision that had an impact on the transition was the commitment to not return to a Southeast worship service for a year after my retirement.  Several Elders later confided that they did not see the necessity of this when the idea was first introduced, but later realized the wisdom of it. – page 32

Looking back four years later, I can’t think of any major part of the transition that I would do differently…There are several minor adjustments I would make, however.  First, I would have scheduled a monthly luncheon with Dave Stone following my retirement. – page 35

We could have done better at transitioning the Elders also. – page 36

One other change I would have made was to be more understanding of my wife’s feelings about the approaching transition. – page 36

I’ve discovered the greatest period of your life is when the kids are grown, the bills are paid and the dog’s dead! – page 38

I’m thankful I stepped away when I did, proving that the church belongs to Jesus. – page 38

Come back tomorrow for a sneak peak into Chapter 2, Why Transitions?  Or, you can subscribe to my blog and it will be emailed to you.

You can also follow along @willardheath.

Click HERE to purchase a copy.

Book Spotlight: TRANSITION PLAN by Bob Russell and Bryan Bucher

In early of 2012, I was introduced to Bob Russell, former Senior Pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.  We were connected on a conference call to discuss the topic of succession planning.  It was a brief conversation that led to an invitation to spend a few days with he and Mrs. Judy at their home in Louisville later that summer.

In preparation for our time together I read, reread and read again Transition Plan.  Next to my Bible, it is one of the most marked up books I own.  It falls in that special category of books that I recommend but will never loan out.  It’s that important to me.  Mainly because Bob is one of my heroes.

That September, Bob and I did the first of what would be five seminars together on the topic of succession planning.  In reality, people came to hear from Bob.  I was just along for the ride.

You learn a lot about a person when you stay in their home and travel with them.  Seeing a person in different contexts, dealing with different people gives a unique glimpse into their life.  I am no expert on Bob Russell, but my observation of him during the time we spent together is that his reputation of being a humble elder is well deserved.  Bob is a good man.

Next Monday thru Friday I will be posting excerpts from the first five chapters of Transition Plan.  Here is the schedule.

  • Monday – Chapter 1, My Story
  • Tuesday – Chapter 2, Why Transitions?
  • Wednesday – Chapter 3, Lessons from Experience, Observation, and Research
  • Thursday – Chapter 4, Saying Goodbye
  • Friday – Chapter 5, Life After Retirement

In addition to the blog posts I will be tweeting various quotes from his book.  You can follow along @willardheath.

To echo the words of Max Lucado – “Every leader should read this book.”  You can purchase a copy by clicking HERE.  It is difficult (and expensive) to get your hands on a hard copy, so you may need to purchase an electronic version.

Passages to Challenge the Heart of Leaders in Transition

I’ll never forget my very first observation about succession planning.

Succession planning is personal long before it becomes tactical.

This was the “big idea” God used to get my attention in this area. A mentor of mine trusted me enough to open up and talk through the fears he had relating to his eventual retirement. At the time he was over 10 years away from retiring. The conversation was personal and left a deep impression.

Since that moment, this principal has become a primary filter for how I serve leaders in seasons of transition.

I like what Marshall Goldsmith wrote in his book Succession, Are You Ready.

“Academic” literature generally ignores the fact that CEO’s – and their successors – are human beings. Very little of what is written deals with the “soft” personal issues like relationships, self-interest, ego, or (God forbid) feelings! – Preface: Memo to the CEO, page XIV

His book is written to those in the “C” Suite, but his comments apply to leaders in both secular and sacred nonprofit organizations.

To help you process the personal side of succession planning, here are five biblical passages to read and reflect upon. Take one at a time. Read them slow and in context. Reflect on specific, personal applications. Record your thoughts in a journal. Pray with your spouse.

A Pattern to Follow – Numbers 8:23-26

This is the only passage in scripture that speaks directly to the topic of retirement based transitions. It is God’s instruction to Moses on how to manage the Levite work force as they age. The insights in this passage stand as a stark contrast to how retirement is viewed by those of us living in a western, capitalistic culture.  For the Levites, retirement represented a shift in ministry activity.  All too many pastors today fear that retirement will mark the end of their influence.

A Lament to Wrestle With – Ecclesiastes 2:18-21

It seems understandable, natural even, for the leaders that invest their lives to build something would lament the fact that someone else would step into their shoes. Solomon’s concerns expressed in this passage seem to resonate in the hearts of many leaders today.

A Change in Identity – Deuteronomy 3:23-29

Mount Pisgah marked a profound shift in Moses’ identity as leader. Climbing the mountain, his primary identity as leader was centered around leading Israel into Canaan. Coming down, his primary focus was preparing Joshua. A careful look at verses 23-26 reveal this had been something Moses struggled with for quite some time.

A Desire for the People – Numbers 27:12-23

Numbers 27:12-23 and Deuteronomy 3:23-29 are parallel passages that provide different insights into the same moment – God confronting Moses with his need to implement a succession plan. Even though Moses experienced great frustration in leading Israel, this passage spotlights his genuine concern for their well-being. He was concerned more for their future in his absence than his personal legacy.

A Passion to Protect – 2 Kings 20:16-19

To truly appreciate this specific passage you must read the full account found in 2 Kings 18 thru 21:9. Hezekiah’s story stands as a profound example of how zeal and passion can diminish over time. At 25 he had the audacity to destroy the Bronze Serpent that Moses build some 700 years prior (2 Kings 18:4). By the end of his career he was willing to trade his personal comfort for the future of Israel. His zeal was gone.

As you study this passage pay special attention to 2 Kings 20:6 and 2 Kings 21:1. God extended Hezekiah’s life 15 years and moved the nation into a season of peace and prosperity. It was during this time that Manasseh, his son and successor, was born. Manasseh was 12 when he became King. The son’s perspective of God was shaped by his father’s leadership while in a season of peace. He never knew his father as man that depended on God. One can’t help but wonder how much that played into his attitude towards God during his tenure as king.

A Prayer of Reflection – 1 Chronicles 29:10-19

This is the last, or one of the last, recorded prayers of King David. Unlike Hezekiah, David’s passion for the Lord burned bright to the very end. It is not the words of this prayer that make it unique. It is not so different that many other prayers of reflection that can be found throughout history. What makes this prayer special is the point in David’s life in which he uttered it. Indeed, there are certain prayers that can only be voiced by those who have given their life, their length of days, to the service and glory of God.

I pray these passages would serve as both a source of encouragement and warning as you reflect upon the reality of your eventual transition.

And remember…Succession planning isn’t the last great thing you will do as a leader.  Succession planning is the gateway to your greatest season of influence.

Let me know if there is any way we can serve you in this season. It would be our honor to do so.

The Personal Side of Succession  

I was recently on the phone with a pastor that wants to start the process of succession planning. Our time on the phone was another reminder of how personal the issue of succession planning is.

Our call started out like so many others. He and the Executive Pastor gave me the background of the church. They listed some of the issues they think need to be addressed over the next five to seven years. They asked for my initial thoughts and other questions related to how I go about helping churches like theirs. We talked for about 45 minutes before his Executive Pastor had to leave for another appointment.

Once it was just Bob, the Sr. Pastor, on the line I took the opportunity to get a little more personal. I asked a simple question…

 “How are you and your wife handling the idea of your eventual retirement?”

The tone completely changed!! The initial part of the call was all about organizational priorities. Now, we were able to start digging into his personal motivations.  Here is a summary of what we talked about:

He wants to stay involved with the church after he retires

The fear of hurting people by not transitioning well is a significant motivation

What will he do next?

His wife’s transition is just as important as his

He is wondering what their financial future will look like

Succession Planning is bigger than hiring the right person, developing leaders or making sure the organization doesn’t lose momentum.  Don’t get me wrong – these things are important. But in the process of addressing the organizational side of succession planning we must be careful not lose sight of our opportunity to help the retiring leader wrestle through their personal fears and concerns.

5 Key Questions In Selecting Your Succession Planning Process

Here are five common questions leaders wrestle through when trying to decide what their succession planning process should look like.

Q – What do your governing documents require?

Don’t expect a lot of guidance here.  Most Constitution and Bylaws only speak to replacement planning and are silent on the broader issue of succession planning.  Consequently, the selection of a broader succession planning process is influenced by other factors.

Q – What is the reason you are you developing a succession plan?

An unexpected transition may push you towards one process option while a planned transition would push you towards another.  The “Intentional Interim” is often the process of choice in emergency transition situations.  The “Stop and Go” and “Overlap” options work well when you have time to plan ahead.

Q – Will the current leader stay engaged in the ministry after retirement?

If so, you may lean towards the “Stop and Go” or “Overlap.”  The answer to this question will also influence how you account for each of the five Signposts as you develop your succession planning strategy.

 Q – How “healthy” is your ministry?

Some ministries have a healthy culture.  Other ministries, however, face significant challenges. Healthy ministries tend to implement the “Stop and Go” or “Overlap” options while troubled ministries tend to utilize the “Intentional Interim.”

 Q – Do you need an oil change or an overhaul?

If you are happy with your programming methodology the “Stop and Go” or “Overlap” will more than likely be your go to options.  If you sense the need for a fundamental change in direction you may consider the “Stop and Go” or “Intentional Interim.”

Getting key stakeholders to agree on this question can prove difficult.  This is why we recommend starting the succession planning process as early as possible.  Giving your team enough time to prayerfully evaluate key areas and work through issues is always a good course of action.

The three Process Options referenced above are the Stop and Go, Intentional Interim and Overlap.

Click HERE for a brief description of each.

How to Act When Your Bylaws are Silent

When a church or other non-profit organization wants to enact a new policy or process, one of the first questions that is frequently asked is, “What do our bylaws say?” While bylaws often provide the answer, bylaws sometimes are completely silent on the topic of the new policy or process.

Organizational bylaws allow churches and other non-profit organizations to carry out their mission on a daily basis. Bylaws provide structure and general direction for the manner in which an organization conducts its daily business. Because bylaws are written to provide a general framework or operational structure within which an organization will operate, however, bylaws do not anticipate all specific situations that may confront an organization.

So what does an organization do when a course of action is proposed that is not addressed in the organization’s bylaws? Two alternatives are commonly favored. First, the organization can implement a policy that is separate from the organizational bylaws. Second, the organization can amend its bylaws to include the new course of action.

Implementing a Policy

Bylaws identify the general powers and duties granted to those empowered to act on behalf of a church or organization and its members. Bylaws also identify the limits of those powers or duties. Among the powers and duties typically given to those with authority to act on behalf of a church or organization is the authority to implement policies, as needed, to advance the organization that are consistent with its goals and mission. Thus, when a situation arises that is not specifically addressed in the organization’s bylaws, those with the power and/or duty to act can write and implement a separate policy – that is not a part of the bylaws – without running afoul of the organization’s bylaws.

Amending the Bylaws

The alternative to implementing a policy, of course, is to amend the organization’s bylaws. Bylaws typically provide for the manner in which they can be amended. The simplicity or difficulty of amending your organization’s bylaws may necessarily dictate whether you implement a policy or amend the bylaws. Some bylaws contain complex requirements for making changes, while other bylaws make it remarkably easy for an organization to amend its bylaws. If your organization chooses to amend its bylaws, make sure that all required steps are followed. If these steps are not followed, the amended bylaws will likely be void, as if the bylaws were never amended.

Related Post: The Implications of Violating your Bylaws

This post was provided by Hallisey Law & Mediation.  You can contact Wade Hallisey at 469.238.0100 or

The Implications of Violating Your Bylaws

The Implications of Violating your Bylaws Despite the best intentions of your church, you learn that your church has violated its bylaws. When a bylaw violation is discovered, it is rarely the result of a casual reading of the church’s bylaws in the pastor’s study on a rainy afternoon. Instead, it typically occurs as the result of a church decision that has angered someone – or a group of people. Unhappy with the decision, someone reads the bylaws and discovers that the decision violates those bylaws.

So your church has violated your bylaws – Now what? The implications of violating your bylaws typically fall into one of three categories: what I like to call “practical” recourse, denominational recourse, or legal recourse.

Practical Recourse

A church’s violation of its bylaws may remain wholly within the local church. This gives the local church the best opportunity to address and remedy the violation. However, leadership must remain mindful that relationships likely will be strained between the church – placed on notice that it has violated its bylaws – and the member reporting the violation to the church. While the church will need to decide how to cure the violation of its bylaws – by either reconsidering the original decision or reconsidering the bylaw provision that the church has since learned that it violated – the church will also need to be prepared to address and remedy any relational differences that have occurred because of the reported violation of the bylaws.

Denominational Recourse

While the courthouse commonly does not provide recourse for a church’s violation of its bylaws, denominations may provide such an outlet. Different denominations have different systems/schemes of intra-denominational structure, with most denominations having varying levels of structured intermediate “units,” in the form of a convention, congress, synod, or other structure. An aggrieved member, elder, deacon, or church leader may seek to involve one or more of these units – operating above the local church level – to address the bylaw violation. This can result in the involvement of denominational hierarchy that places the denominational structure at odds with the local church and/or its leadership.

Legal Recourse

Finally, there are occasions, albeit rare, when a violation of the church’s bylaws can give rise to a claim for legal recourse. A church can be liable for secular acts, even those acts that are religiously motivated. The overarching question in evaluating a church member’s ability to seek relief in court is whether the bylaw violation involves an issue of religious doctrine or belief. If the violation would require a court to make a determination about the validity of a religious doctrine or belief, the court will refuse to entertain the complaint on the basis that it would violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Additionally, as a threshold matter, the church member will have to demonstrate “standing” – that is, that the church member has a legally protectable and tangible interest at stake in the alleged bylaw violation. A church member’s standing to sue must be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Related Post: How to Act When Your Bylaws are Silent

This post was provided by Hallisey Law & Mediation.  You can contact Wade Hallisey at 469.238.0100 or

Governance – Boring but Necessary!!

I have yet to meet a pastor that entered vocational ministry as a response to their passion for governance.  Let’s face it….Governance is boring but necessary.

When it comes to succession planning, however, understanding what your constitution and bylaws actually say is a critical part of your planning process.

Because of the importance of this topic, I asked my friend Wade Hallisey to address a handful of governance related topics.  Wade has been practicing law and representing nonprofit organizations and ministries for over a decade.  One of his specific areas of expertise is governance.

The specific areas I asked him to start with are listed below.

How to Act When Your Bylaws are Silent, and

The Implications of Violating your Bylaws

We will be adding additional content in the coming months.  Make sure to subscribe (top right) to stay up to date for when new information is added.

Are you looking for practical information on how to get started with succession planning?

The video below gives you a practical look at how to get from where you are to the implementation of a healthy and effective succession planning strategy.


The content in the SUCCESSION FRAMEWORK website is organized to help you with the first four areas highlighted in the video – ORIENT, DESIGN, EVALUATE, GATHER.



Here is an outline of the content presented in the video.


Objective: Give yourself and others permission to talk about your retirement

Things to Consider

-Begin to talk with family, friends and trusted ministry leaders
-Get your finances in order
-Plants seeds for whatever is next
-Develop and emergency transition plan


Objective: Deal with fear

Things to Consider

-Get into the Bible
-Interview other retired leaders
-Go to counceling


Objective: Understand what succession planning is

Things to Consider

-What are your process options?
-How will you implement your plan?
-Evaluate/Establish Continuity
-Go Public


Objective: Develop your succession planning strategy

Things to Consider

-Design your strategy
-Evaluate key areas
-Gather core leaders
-Do a stewardship campaign


Objective: Implement your succession planning strategy

Things to Consider

-Firm up your time frame
-Trust the plan
-Finalize plans for what you will transition to