I want to talk with you about the transfer of leadership from one man to another. I want to talk to you about pastoral succession in the context of Riverpark Bible Church. I turned 65 in July. An inscription on a cathedral clock summarizes my perspective looking back on my life and ministry.
When, as a child, I laughed and wept, Time crept. When, as a youth, I dreamed and talked, Time walked. When I became a full-grown man, Time ran. And later, as I older grew, Time flew. Soon I shall find, while traveling on, Time gone.
While I’m not ready for TIME GONE … I do want to report to you exciting decisions by your leaders.
Let me take you back 10 years. In 2007, as my hearing loss accelerated … the elders initiated a succession plan in the event I went deaf. Praise God, total deafness did not come and the succession plan died. I desired to remain as senior pastor for many years to come. God has been so very gracious to allow me to remain in the “hearing world” … though my hearing is very weak.
But a few years ago … I began to realize that a succession plan should be re-considered. To effectively lead a congregation this size and a multiple staff … and reaching younger generations … a pastor who can hear well has become apparent to me.
In the last few years I have mentioned to the elders on a couple of occasions … I would like to remain in full-time ministry at Riverpark until I’m 70. That would be 5 years from now. I also hoped the next pastor could come from our own staff. When we began a search two years ago for a pastor of adult ministries … my hope was … he would be a man strong in the pulpit and a leader. God in His goodness connected us with Pastor John Cox. Though I did not say this to John … I began asking the Lord … is this the man who should fill my shoes when it is time?
I’ve had the joy of observing Pastor John for over a year. I became convinced … he indeed is the man who should fill my shoes.
It was time to talk with the elders. I reiterated my hope of staying in full-time ministry at Riverpark for 5 more years. But then recommended … I believe it is time now to start a succession plan for Pastor John to become the next senior pastor. He’s the right man. The Lord has brought him here for this. Let me clarify … the elders did not initiate this succession plan. Pastor John did not initiate this plan. No one has been working behind the scenes to move me out of my position. The Lord moved this pastor to start the process. Stirred by God I initiated what is before us today.
Pastor John and I share the same theological orientation. We have had numerous theological discussions and it’s remarkable how much we see eye to eye. We share the same philosophy of ministry. Our roots are under the ministry of John MacArthur. There will be no theological surprises in store for you. Pastor John helped me lead a semester of Men in Action. I saw how he led men. I’ve seen him work well with the rest of the staff. So without reservation I recommended John to the elders.
Your elders have been so gracious to me. The question was asked several times … Pastor George, are you sure about this? Are you sure it is time? I’ve been able to say with joy and without hesitation … yes, I’m sure about this. And yes, it is time. Linda fully supports this decision too. Linda and I agree … this is the Lord’s will.
It was decided that a Succession Team of four elders should work with me in next steps. We began meeting. I reiterated that my dream would be to stay on staff full time for 5 years. I suggested … how about leadership be passed to John over the next 5 years … maybe giving him 20% of the leadership in the first year … 40% the next and so on. But we needed to hear from outside sources on the best plan. We were made aware of two pastors who led their church beautifully through a succession … handing the baton to a pastor already on their staff. We had a face to face interview with one … and a video conference call with another in Tennessee. Both provided invaluable information. A third pastor has become a guru of succession plans. At one time he was on staff under John Piper. We were also made aware of some excellent books on the subject. My favorite was the book: NEXT: PASTORAL SUCCESSION THAT WORKS. We did our homework. We got great counsel. What we discovered … and I’ll use my own words … a 5 year plan is a stupid way to go. It needs to happen much quicker.
The elders then asked me … what if you remained on staff for 5 years as a teaching pastor … and Pastor John become the lead pastor. I loved the idea. This is so gracious of the men. I readily accepted the option. I get to stay. I will remain at Riverpark. I’m NOT going anywhere! I will have preaching opportunities … somewhat of a shared pulpit at first … but diminishing for me and increasing for Pastor John.
The team then began working on how to make the transition. Pastor John was approached with the offer to become the next senior pastor. After prayer and talks with Daisy – he agreed to the plan. About 8 weeks ago … the entire plan went before the elders … that included interviews with Pastor John. AND THE SUCCESSION PLAN … MOVING PASTOR JOHN TO LEAD PASTOR AND ME TO TEACHING PASTOR WAS UNANIMOUSLY APPROVED. Effective today, Pastor John has been given my leadership duties. I am excited to support and stand behind our new senior pastor. And I’m also pleased to have some weight taken out of my backpack.
Our church constitution says that the senior pastor must be ratified by members. That will happen October 22. We are going to have one morning service that day. And following the service and affirmation vote … we will gather for a banquet in the Family Center. I love this plan! It has been a privilege to have been your senior pastor. We as leaders wanted to make this announcement to the church with summer vacations behind us and the last holiday of summer – Labor Day … to be behind us as well. This is why this date was chosen.
But here’s something ironic: On this very day … September 10th, 1989 … my family and I moved here to be your pastor. Today is our 28th Anniversary at Riverpark. God has been so good to us. What a joy it is to celebrate this anniversary with this succession plan in place.Undoubtedly you have questions. This is why the communication night was planned for tonight. We want to answer your questions. Pastor John and I will be together in the chapel to give more details and answer your questions. So please come back tonight.
As well … Pastor John will begin a 5-week preaching series starting next Sunday morning on the Epistle of John. Then next Sunday night – September 17th … Pastor John is going to share his vision for our church … some very exciting things. As well … beginning in two weeks … each of the Flocks will be having a lunch after a morning service in the Family Center to get better acquainted with Pastor John and Daisy.
Let me close with this observation. In my many years at Riverpark … this is one of THE most God-initiated … God-directed … God-blessed moves for Riverpark. I believe God has His hands on this big time! I am so very excited about the next season of ministry and growth at Riverpark.