Back when I was a Phys Ed teacher I used to love coaching athletics and helping our runners work on improving their technique to be the best they could be. One area we worked especially hard on was baton changing, knowing that relay events are worth more at carnivals and that the key to winning is not simply in having the fastest runners but in having runners who will get the baton around the track the fastest. This means baton changes were practiced until we were utterly sick of them, because the fastest runners who can’t change batons simply don’t win relays, but good runners who never lose speed can often perform very well.
More recently I have been reflecting on baton changing in our church setting at QBC and YCC – a process we will implement intentionally over this year.
The last time I was involved in one of these I was the ‘young guy’ (37) and was being ‘handed the baton’ by Garth Wootton the senior pastor of Lesmurdie Baptist. It was the ‘pastor as CEO era’ and I was deemed to have more of the visonary/strategic gifts needed to lead a church, while Garth’s strengths were more in pastoral care and spiritual formation. Over a period of months our leadership mulled this shift around, Garth pointed them in the direction, led the process and then we made it happen. I took the ‘team leader’ role while he became the ‘associate’ and we hired a new youth pastor.
I was only in the role for 14 months before the church planting bug bit hard and I resigned to go and be a missionary in Butler – the move that started this blog. It wasn’t a ‘baton change’ without its challenges, but we were managing to work together very well before my sense of calling to Butler. There weren’t too many models to learn from back then, but the idea of having a ‘succession plan’ is a little more common these days, so we are hoping to do this well and get maximum benefit with minimum pain.
Late last year Steve McAlpine wrote this post outlining why he chose to hand on the senior pastor baton at his own church plant in Midland. I enjoyed reading it, but as I read, I realised my own reasons for making the shift are somewhat different – so let me add to the list.
Steve’s reasons are:
- You Revisit But Don’t Resolve Bottlenecks
- You Elevate Other Interests
- Your Leaders Start Discussing It
- It Worked!
Ed, (currently our youth pastor) asked me if I resonated with these reasons and I said ‘hmmmm… not so much’. We don’t really have ‘bottlenecks’ because we haven’t set a growth target. (But the absence of firm structures has also been a reason the church has stayed around the 70-80 mark). I haven’t been doing other things in preference and our leaders haven’t been hinting at change or trying to initiate it.
So why would we want to initiate a baton change at Quinns and Yanchep? Currently Danelle and I lead across both churches and we are employed for 3 days (2 days = me and 1 day = her). Here are my reflections:
1. You Are Ready for Change. In this post I was leading an exercise for another group of pastors when I experienced something myself that was prompting me to see new horizons and wide open spaces in which to ‘play’. It hasn’t come out of the blue though. There have been conversations between all of us about future directions, potential and hopes. It has been pointed this direction for a while, but with no one driving it. Lately I have felt it important to put some muscle to the change.
The unresolved question for Danelle and I was ‘who will we be when this happens’? Will we still lead the team but have two ‘campus pastors’, (to use contemporary lingo). Will we work alongside as co-leaders with equal authority and responsibility or will we work ‘under’ the guys as supporters and helpers. I haven’t been clear on this until recently. We are feeling it is time to let the others lead, carry the responsibility that goes with this and to support and empower them as they do this.
Structurally we will be ‘under’ their leadership, meaning they are the team leaders and we will be the co-workers. This feel right and good and I can honestly say I am looking forward to it. It also frees me to ‘look up’ and see what may be next for us.
2.You Should Just Consider Getting out of the Way – I have been conscious both men I work with are keen to lead teams and churches and this is where they are headed vocationally. If I continue in current form then I will stand in the way of them moving ahead – or they will need to leave the churches we are working in to find that opportunity elsewhere.
We have really good team dynamics / relationships and we enjoy working together so it would be a shame to forgo that. We are all committed to a longer term involvement in the local area so if the only glitch to that plan is an older guy who wants to hold onto the ‘top job’ then maybe it’s time to get out of the way.
I am also 55 and this seems like a good time to move rather than in another 5 years at 60. I have watched churches ‘age’ and appear to be unable to replenish with younger blood and I wonder to what extent this is a result of having an aging team of leaders. That’s a question / observation more than a definite conclusion.
3. You Lack Fresh Ideas – I have been feeling this in my leadership at Quinns moreso than Yanchep. We have been thru numerous iterations of this church over the 10 years we have been there. We have seen people come and go and the focus of the community change also. I’m sure I could ‘summon the energy’ to go again, but I feel a bit weary in this leadership and I haven’t felt this before..
Yeah we just signed up for another 5 year term, but it was always with a view to transitioning leadership, so maybe that will be the primary task. I am not dreaming like I once was of what the church could be, so that is a sign of something amiss.
4. You Are Dying Under the Weight – I feel like 70-80% of our leadership focus over the last two years has been over-run with administrative exercises – constitution, incorporation, policy and procedures. Yes – we have to work to change this and streamline the operations – and that is a work in progress, but I feel like it is ripping the heart out of me and many nights I have gone home livid and ready to quit.
I have said for over 25 years that my primary calling has always been ‘to communicate the Christian message to ordinary Australian people in ways they can understand’. An outflow of that has been to create communities of faith that resonate with the hearts of people who are largely from unchurched backgrounds.
This has been my reason for getting out of bed in the morning and my retic business serves that goal in various ways too. Lately I’ve been feeling the need to be across a bunch of stuff I have very little interest in or heart for. I
‘m sure someone who enjoys the higher level administration stuff would find joy in organising and systematising a church community to fit the government regs for an incorporated body. I regularly find myself in moments of frustration and disbelief at the red tape surrounding not for profit organisations and I can see a) we need to do this stuff b) It will stop me doing the stuff I am called to and good at. Again – something has to give.
Mike Frost wrote about this very struggle today also.
Something has to give.
5. The Church Would Benefit From New Leadership – Over the last 10 years I have distilled my job description to leading, teaching and meeting with blokes. The challenge with this is that in 2 days/week the area that suffers most is the ‘leading’. Teaching comes around regularly and can’t be dodged. I have regular commitments to people, so the ‘non urgent / important’ job of thinking ahead, implementing new plans, organising and focusing a team and all that goes with that ends up being done very intuitively rather than in a more focused way. We haven’t seen the church grow beyond the size of its current building and lately it has felt like the energy has been waning. I imagine part of that is because I am fading in my leadership capacity and Quinns needs a dedicated leader.
As well as these factors there is some opportunity to time this well as we have long service leave due and we will take it around April 2021 – 6 months out to travel and refresh. We could take it earlier, but we’d like to stick around while Sam completes year 12 🙂
So the plan is a gradual hand over of responsibilities and tasks over 2020 so that as 2021 begins we are supporters and the other guys are leading. Initially I was hesitant about letting go of my own position, but I’ve been aware lately of some people ‘staying too long’ and missing the cue to step aside. I think my cue is up and my focus is going to shift somewhat, even if we continue to live in the same area.
I’m not sure what the future holds beyond long service leave, but I guess that’s part of the adventure.