You can stop at practice number five and your organisation will last a good, long time. However, if you want your church and/or ministry to stand the test of time, then you have to be replaced. Just talking about this creates a lot of emotion for people. However, if you don’t eventually replace yourself, the church will fall apart.
One day someone else will be doing what you are doing. Whether you have an exit strategy or not, you will exit. So embrace the inevitable and prepare now for the future. On that day, everything you’ve done, everything you’ve dreamed, and everything you’ve built will be placed in someone else’s hands.
When we attempt to hold on, we encourage our organization to be built around a personality; when we strategically replace ourselves, we allow the organization to be driven by vision. Learning to hand off leadership to the next generation is vital to the longevity of any organisation, especially the church.
In order to replace yourself, you have to see the good of the organisation as more important than your own. You have to be able to resist the natural reaction to protect yourself and your position. For an organisation to grow, you have to have great leadership and great leadership needs to be developed through a system of apprenticing replacements and duplication.
Tear Down the Leadership Walls
John Maxwell popularized the concept of the “leadership lid” – which refers to anything that keeps a leader from growing. Effective leaders identify their limitations and to whatever they can to grow through them. Any ministry will have a difficult time growing beyond the lid or leadership capacity of its leader.
Andy Stanley talks also about leadership “leadership walls” – that prevent others from reaching their potential. A leadership wall can directly stunt the growth of those on a ministry team and ultimately create a leadership gap in the ministry. Lids may stop leaders from growing up but walls keep leaders out. They form a barrier that blocks the development of future leaders in your organisation.
If you fail to develop a strategy to replace yourself, you will …
- Force talented individuals to remain in the wings
- Cause potential leaders to exit the organization
- Stifle needed insight from valuable team members
- Hinder your ability to recruit volunteers
- Limit the growth of your programs and ministries.
Every leader needs to take an honest, objective look at anything that may create a barrier to the growth of the church’s staff and volunteers. The same characteristics that make a leader effective may adversely affect his or her ability to reproduce other leaders. Replacing yourself requires a shift of thinking as a leader that includes facing some personal tendencies that could be unhealthy for your ministry. Start asking, “What keeps those around me from growing as leaders?” not just, “What keeps me from growing as a leader?”
Some Practical Suggestions and Reflection Questions
- What could you see yourself doing 10 years from now?
- What are you doing right now that you could delegate to someone else, not to just get rid of work, but to help develop others? Give others a significant piece of what you do. Help them own it and succeed at it. Make sure they are applauded and recognized for what they have done. Push others into the spotlight.
- Make sure every volunteer sees it as their mission to recruit other volunteers. Most people respond to a personal invitation rather than a general announcement.
- Model what needs to be done by apprenticing others. Impart what you know and the experience you have to others. Coach other people and help them improve their skills.
- Pass ministry on to others by (a) breaking it down (make sure you can clearly and fully explain what it is you do), (b) handing it off (give others an opportunity to do what you do), and eventually (c) let it go (this is not easy and requires trust and an understanding that what we have doesn’t belong to us anyway).
- Review your leadership pathway “levels of leadership.” Who is at what level right now? Who is next in line and how are you preparing them for the possibility of steeping up to a new level of ministry contribution? Who has the potential to do what you are doing right now and how could you begin investing in them more intentionally? Andy Stanley says, “Create a farm system and learn to scout for talent. Train yourself to spot talent, acquire it and place it in the right position to be developed. This is not a revolving door. It is a process – of mentoring and teaching another to do what you do and do it well. This practice assures that you maintain quality over the long haul. You avoid burnout and prevent people from becoming entrenched.”
- What strength or tendencies could be potential weaknesses for you in seeking to raise up others?