This weekend, I made the following announcement to my church family - CityLife Church. Obviously, it was a surprise to many, while not to others. There is a degree of sadness with any change like this but I am also encouraged by the amount of support I have received. [Watch on You Tube]
I have given the matter of our church’s future, as well my own future, much prayer and reflection over the last eight months. As a result, I believe that it is time to start thinking about a successor – who will be the next Senior Minister of CityLife Church.
I have been on church staff for 31 years now, 21 years as the Senior Minister, and I believe that the time has come when CityLife would benefit from new leadership with energy and fresh vision for its next chapter.
As a result of this, I and the CityLife Board of Elders are now prayerfully beginning to consider who could be the next Senior Minister – whether that person be from inside or outside the church. I am committed to working with the Elders (as the Senior Minister is one of the Elders) to ensure that the best person is chosen to lead CityLife into its next season. Once that happens, I will give my full focus and energies to contributing to a really good transition to that person, just like in a relay race. I am confident that once a suitable successor is selected, we will be able to navigate a very successful transition together. I have been up 'close and personal' to two leadership transitions in CityLife and I’ve been on the receiving end of the last one. I believe we know what it takes to do this well.
[I should note at this stage that a new Senior Minister is first selected and nominated by a two-thirds majority of the Board of Elders and then confirmed by a two-thirds majority of church partners (members) at a subsequent Annual or Special General Meeting. This might be a good time to become a partner, if you aren’t one already, so you have the opportunity to be involved in this important decision about our church’s future leadership!]
Transitions are always vulnerable times. Please pray. Pray for me and the Elders, as well as for this important time of change coming up. CityLife is Jesus' church. I didn't start it. I have never seen myself as an 'owner' of the church but rather as merely a 'steward'. CityLife was already 28 years old when I became its leader and I've done my best to lead it over the last 21 years. It's now time to get ready for a new season.
Change is not always easy. There will be some grief and some loss. But endings make way for new beginnings. Yes, things will be different but our mission remains the same. Let’s stay close together at this time.
I am sure, for many of you, this may come as a surprise and you may have a lot of questions. Let me anticipate a few of them:
- “When will all this happen?” We don't have any fixed dates as of yet. All those details will unfold once a successor is decided upon. Right now, I am going to be continue to lead the church as the Senior Minister and I’ll be giving it my very best. I and the Elders will be keeping you up-to-date with the progress of this transition. Today’s announcement is simply to let you know that we are now talking about succession planning.
- “What does Nicole think about this?” Nicole told me that if I wanted to lead for another 10 years, I would have her full support. This has been my decision and I think it’s time to get ready for change. I am very thankful for the support of Nicole and my entire family.
- “Will my son Josiah be my successor?” Josiah has just turned 27 years of age and he is doing a great job leading the youth ministry, along with our staff and volunteer team. He has told me that a role like Senior Minister is not something he would even consider at this time in his life nor is he ready for. So please don't ask him, “Are you the One?”
- “What about the building projects we are currently undertaking?” The Story Building Projects are not my projects or about me as Senior Minister. They are for the direct benefit of our Knox and Casey congregations. So these projects will continue as we seek to create environments that will serve our mission for many years to come. Like most of you, I will be making a pledge next weekend. For Knox, our plan is to complete the new community centre this year. Leading up to the completion of this first stage, you will hear more information about the remaining stages.
- “Is Mark burnt out?” I don't think I am. However, during these last few years I have felt more tired mentally and emotionally than at other times, despite my sabbatical in 2012. I started leading at CityLife Church at the age of 18 as a volunteer and came on staff 5 years later, so I have been leading ministries with constantly increasing responsibility for 36 straight years now. At age 54, I am at a time in life when I'd like a smaller world not a bigger one, a slower pace not a faster one, and a simpler life not a more complex one. Could I lead for another 5 years? Yes, but I don't think I have the spark and the energy that I think this job requires and deserves going forward.
- “What does my dad, Kevin Conner, think about this?” Feel free to ask him. My dad is 89 years of age now, and when I met with him and Rene a few weeks back to inform them of my decision, my dad responded by saying, “I don't know how you do what you do. I couldn't do it.” So I am thankful for their understanding and support. [Our founding pastor, Richard Holland passed away back in 2008. When he was around he used to say, “I was good, Kevin was better but Mark is the best!” I have never claimed to be the best but I have tried to do my best. Richard led the church for 20 years, my dad for 8 years, and by the end of this year I will have completed 22 years, so Richard would at least be pleased that I was in this Senior Minister role longer than he was!]
- “What's next for me?” I am not leaving to go to another job. I haven’t been ‘head-hunted’ from somewhere else. It is simply a time for me to consider finishing in my role as Senior Minister and see what the future holds. After I finish, I'll take some extended time off then see what opens up (I’m not ‘retiring’ and I do need to work). I believe I have much to offer the wider church from my years of church leadership experience and so I will prayerfully explore a variety of options in which I can add value to other churches and leaders. Nicole and I are excited about doing some new things together in the next season of our life and ministry.
- “What is really going on?” There is no ‘back story’ to all of this. I have decided that it’s time to think about my successor. It's a simple as that – nothing more, nothing less.
- “How do I feel about all of this?” It’s all a bit surreal at the moment. I am sure there will be some ‘lows’ ahead, as I face the grief of letting go of a role that has been so a part of me for many years, as well as some ‘highs’, as I experience the relief of no longer having to carry this level of responsibility.
God has led CityLife for almost 50 years now and we have navigated transitions like this well before. I believe great days are ahead for the church and we can trust God to lead us through this next transition into an even more fruitful future.
This is not ‘goodbye’ or farewell. There will be time for that later. I am simply being open about a process that is beginning right now, so that you are fully aware and can pray and journey with us at this important time in the history of our church.
Thank you for your prayer and support during this season of my life and ministry. I really appreciate it and I love you very much.