Every conference has one. You know, the wild card session. Typically someone you don’t know real well, and it could go either way. Well, Tom & Todd Mullins from Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach, FL certainly exceeded my expectations.
They talked about the importance of transitioning a church well and shared their personal experience with it. Great session, lets get into the recap.
I’ve been digging what these guys have been doing in the mornings. They’ve been doing a full band, a different band from the night sessions, but they are more subdued. Not quite acoustic, but definitely more mellow, and I’ve been loving the arrangement of the tunes.
They did a great, chill version of Love Goes On and went right into a sick version of Scandal of Grace. Really love what they did to bring the focus back to the lyrics and heart of the songs. Sounded great, and was really well received by the conference.
Whit then transitioned into a great video promoting Sections (a breakout I actually went to later) and moved right into the Pastors Mullins.
There was a lot of back and forth between Tom and Todd, so there will be a little of that in the recap. To begin, Tom is the Founding Pastor and previous Lead Pastor of Christ Fellowship Church and Todd, who is Tom’s son, is the current Lead Pastor of Christ Fellowship. About 5 years ago, by the sound of it, Tom transitioned the leadership of the church over to Todd, and it’s gone very well for them and the church.
This session was all about how to transition a church well. Tom has a really cool story too, where he was a successful football coach in a previous life, then transitioned into ministry. Todd grew up in the church that his dad planted, and was able to watch it to grow from the ground up.
Todd explained that all leadership is about transitioning. Leaders have to see down the road for what change is coming, and how to prepare themselves & others for it. Love this: Great leaders aren’t trying to hold on to power, because they are constantly working to give it away.
They talked a lot about the inevitability of change. Change is a game of when, not if. Tom emphasized how we lead through transition and change can be the greatest challenge of our leadership, but can also be the greatest legacy of our leadership. Also, preparation is the key to success, especially with transitions. Tom then used the illustration of a relay race to explain how a transition tends to look.
In a relay, there are three critical elements to doing it excellently. The first runner is running at full speed, so the other runner has to get up to full speed for a successful hand off. Once the second runner is ready, there must be a sure hand off from the first runner to the second. Once the hand off is complete, the second runner must then continue on.
The first runner is the current pastor. The second runner is the successor. The current pastor is going at full speed, so the successor MUST be brought up to full speed. Once the successor is ready, the hand off needs to occur. If the current pastor goes to early, it fails. If the current pastor waits too long, it fails.
There is an art and science to knowing when the right time to hand off it. Tom said that the biggest danger for these senior leaders is holding onto the baton for too long. Another important note: you only get ONE SHOT at making a successful hand off, so make it count.
When it comes to preparing for a transition of leadership in a church, the pastors said that there are three key groups you need to prepare.
1. You need to prepare yourself.
- Think, “What’s best for the team (church), not what’s best for me.”
- Think about what you’re going to do after the transition NOW.
- Get over your need to have a title, learn how to serve your new pastor.
- Pass the baton from a place of strength not weakness, so clean up your messes before the transition.
2. You need to prepare your successor.
- Give your successor room to lead, even while you’re still in charge.
- Find ways to give them more public ways to flex their leadership.
- Determine when the successor is ready to take the baton, and pass it then. It must be about when they are ready.
3. You need to prepare your church.
- Over communicate what is changing.
- Over communicate what is NOT changing.
- Help them to understand that endings and change are normal.
I think the biggest take away with all of this transitioning talk from a strategic standpoint is the importance of communication. Tom said that when he and Todd decided to begin the process of transition, they needed to communicate with key groups of people, in this specific order:
- Their family.
- Key leadership, i.e. Elders, Senior Staff etc.
- Major donors of the church (people who have helped build the church)
- Core families of the church.
- Their staff.
- Their congregation.
They encouraged us to be meticulous with the communication, to over communicate, to be meticulous about it. Clarity matters.
The rest of the message they gave a bunch of pointers on how to deal with the process and what they would advise people to do who are working through the process. Here are a few of the most impactful points:
- Communicate what isn’t going to change, and do what you can to reinforce that. – Todd
- While you wait for the transition, you need to be working on yourself. Be attentive while you wait, and see the purpose in it. – Todd
- Find coaches and mentors. Coaches see things in you that you don’t see in yourself. – Todd
- Whenever you’re casting new vision, always reach back and honor the past, your foundation. – Tom
- You can honor your past without being consumed by it. – Todd
- Give yourself a break when you’re transitioning. You’re not going to be awesome at everything in the beginning. – Todd
- Once you’ve made the transition, be very careful about making any other changes too soon. – Tom