When Does Your Church Need a Succession Plan?

Nobody wants to talk about handing the reigns to the next generation. Dr. Jon Chasteen talks with church succession planning expert William Vanderbloemen about why it’s worth it to have that conversation early on.

William Vanderbloemen was a senior pastor for 15 years before transitioning to the business world. He started Vanderbloemen a decade ago and has since helped facilitate succession plans for more than 1,500 churches. His book Next helps outline how to navigate pastor succession plans.

Dr. Jon Chasteen: Today I’m excited to have you meet someone that I know you’re going to love. Somebody that if you don’t know who this is, you got to know who this is. This is William Vanderbloemen. He is the CEO of Vanderbloemen Search Group, which is an executive search firm that helps churches. It helps nonprofits, it helps schools. It helps family offices, other faith based organizations find their key staff members.

He won’t tell you this, but I will. It’s the largest one. It’s huge. It’s doing amazing works and he’ll tell you that it’s all God and it is, but he’s also an incredibly talented leader. William has become a friend of mine in the past couple months and he’s just got a ton of experience. He’s a busy man.

Before he did this, he was a senior pastor of a church for 15 years before transitioning into the business world. He’s married, he’s got an amazing wife. He’s got, check this out, seven children. You have seven children, William.

William Vanderbloemen: That’s what we’re claiming.

Jon: That’s awesome. Well, we are just incredibly excited that you’re here and if you’re in the ministry out there, if you’re a pastor, if you don’t know who William Vanderbloemen is, you need to do some research. If you’re in the business of trying to find incredible leaders and staff for your teams, whether you’re a church or a nonprofit or any organization, you need to look up the Vanderbloemen Group. I want William to talk about something that, you hear the saying, “They wrote the book on it.” He literally did.
William wrote a book called Next, which is about pastoral transition that works. Pastoral succession plan, Pastoral Succession That Works. I want us to talk about this for a little bit because not only did you write the book on it, but you do it. Your firm has helped over 1,500 churches find a pastor, and currently at the taping of this his group, himself individually in fact, is helping find the next lead pastor for Willow Creek.

William: Yeah, a little church in Chicago.

Jon: Little bitty, tiny church. You may have heard of it.

William: Going through some transitions.

Jon: Yes. With that being said, I think I laid the table good enough there to let you know that he has the know-how and if that didn’t do it, he’s got two degrees, one from Wake Forest and one from Princeton. Have I said enough-

William: Too much-

Jon: That this guy is worthy of listening to? So, let me give you just a couple of quick stats to get us rolling. So, the Barna Research Group, a couple of stats to get this ball rolling. Barna Research says that half of senior pastors in America, half are age 55 or older. Pastors older than 65 has tripled in the last 25 years.

Jon: Only 15%, this is staggering. 15% of pastors in America are under 40 years old. So, we’re up against some odds. I’ve talked about this, I think you and I talked about this, even when we met a couple of months ago. I’m 40. So, in my lifetime, I’m going to see the largest churches in America figure out how to do this, figure out how to transition.

Jon: I’m excited to hear what you have to say about it. So, before I ask you any questions, I want to pass it to you and say, what do you got to say.

William: Oh, just that I’m honored to be here. This is such a great idea for a podcast to have good, healthy conversation around tensions. I just thank God that you would call me to have this conversation. When we set out to write this book six years ago, I think my mother thought she was going to have to buy all 12 copies of the book. She’s like, You’re writing a book on what? Pastoral succession?” I said, “Sure.”

William: The publisher said, “Oh, it’s going to be a micro-niche book.” We had to talk the publisher into I and they finally said, okay. I said, we’re going to do hard back because this is going to be the textbook on this. They pitched a fit about that, but then they did it and said, “Well, if you can sell to 2,000 copies, it’ll be a home run.” Well, it’s way, way, way … We’ve passed that now. So, the whole point of writing the book though, was not to sell a lot of books. Anybody listening, who’s written books knows you don’t make money writing books, unless your name’s something really special.

William: So, for us, the whole point was to create a healthy conversation about a very real crisis in the church and up until the last few years, it’s not been a conversation people are able to have. There’s a saying in the Catholic church, Jon, that the only sick Pope is a dead Pope.

Jon: Wow. That’s pretty good-

William: We’re not going to talk about-

Jon: We’re not talking about it.

William: We’re not going to talk about it then it’s not going to happen. He isn’t sick until he’s dead and then we’ll just go figure it out. I think the same is true in the United States, particularly globally as well. In the US if you’ve got a good solid ministry going, and you’re a pastor that’s loving your people and loving God and people love you, they just don’t want to talk about when you might not be here.

Jon: Nobody wants to talk about that.

William: Well, it’s just different. In the corporate world, a new CEO, and then there are actually stock trading laws that require the companies that are publicly traded show a succession plan. You have to as a responsibility to your stockholders, but the church world is not like the business world. The business world, you’ve got an employee and an employer. The church world, you’ve got a pastor and a flock.

So, when a CEO sits down at a board meeting and says, “Let’s talk about when I’m not going to be here anymore,” everybody says, “What great leadership.” If a pastor sits down at the board table and says, “Let’s talk about when I’m not going to be here anymore,” well, it’s like dad’s sitting down at the dinner table saying, “Let’s talk about when I’m not going to be here.”

Jon: That’s so good.

William: And the kids are like, “Does he have cancer? Is he dying?” Then mom’s like, “Who do you run off with? I’m going to kill him.” It’s like, why would you leave us.

Jon: It strikes fear.

William: It’s fear, and it’s a fear of the unknown. Frankly, I think if we really got honest and this may be a little too tender a spot to hit this early in the podcast, but I think it’s … I know for me, when I didn’t want to talk about this, it was because I had misunderstood whose church it was.

Jon: That’s really good. I think that’s the key.

William: It’s all Jesus’ church and it’s all interim work for us who are here on earth.

Jon: All interim. I was going to say the same thing. It’s this thought that on any of our business cards, in our heart, we should put the word interim before the title. I’m the interim pastor. I’m the interim president. I’m the interim because we are. We’re interim.

William: I had a candidate write in years ago saying, “I think my season’s coming to a close,” which you get a little jaded doing what I do. I was like, “Is it a misdemeanor or a felony?” So, they said, “No, I think it’s time to look for the next thing.” “Well, what are you looking for?” Well, oddly enough, it was a Monday, which meant they were depressed because pastors are depressed-

Jon: Absolutely-

William: I just said, “Call me back on Tuesday.”

Jon: Don’t make decisions on Monday.

William: No. Never quit on Monday. So, he’s like, “I’ll do really anything. I’ll be student pastor, small groups pastor, senior pastor, exec pastor.” He might even said women’s director, but he was everything. Then at the end of listing all these things, he felt like God might be calling him. He said, “There’s just one thing I don’t want to be.” I said, “What’s that?” He said, “I don’t feel called to be an interim pastor.”

You know that old saying, even a blind hog finds an acre every now and then. Just out of my mouth for some reason, I said, “Hey man, every pastor is an interim pastor.” We kind of ran with that. It’s how we started the book and really, if you think about it, if you’re in ministry right now, they’re really only three ways your ministry can end. So, it can end by you running your church into the ground and closing it. Not cool. It can end by you being the pastor the day Jesus returns.

Yes, Lord. Very hard to get on the calendar though.

Jon: It’s hard to plan for that.

William: So, there’s no iCal appointment reminder or whatever. So, really the only other way a pastor’s ministry ends is with someone else following him. That light bulb went off in my head was the minute I said, “We’ve got to start talking about how we consider healthy transitions.” Let’s call it long-term planning. Let’s call it legacy planning. Let’s call it kingdom planning. Just some way of moving past the idea that the pastor is the keystone of the church and everything falls apart if he’s gone. Jon, it’s just the oldest temptation of, Moses has gone getting the 10 commandments, and however long he was gone, probably one day before he came back down, they went to Aaron and melted down their stuff.

You remember what they said to him? The people said to Aaron, “Make for us a god we can see.”

Jon: That’s really good.

William: I think sometimes, I’ve done this, we see a spiritual leader and a pastor, the spiritual father, you honor them, and somewhere you misplace just a little tweak, just a little off. Instead of honoring the pastor, you make it the god you can see, and if they’re gone, then somehow the magic’s lost or the Holy Spirit’s not here anymore. I’ll get off the pedestal.

Jon: No, that’s good. That’s really good. Let me ask you this. So, what’s changed. It’s not like … The church has been around for hundreds of years. You walk into a church that, let’s say it was founded in the mid 1800s and you walk in there and some churches might even have a wall of all the past pastors, the pastors of the past, and here they are. This one served four years and this one was here 20 years. So, it’s not like succession is a new thing, but it’s almost as if it’s completely different now. What do you think has changed, if anything?

William: I love this book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell. It’s talks about the big success stories and how it was really, every really big success story is right place, right time and the succession conversation, particularly in the United States is centered around a very unique set of circumstances that we’re facing. First of all, we’re facing birth rates. So, there’s just a lot of baby boomers and they’re getting older and older. Anybody smart is investing in healthcare products because you’re going to sell a lot of those over the next 20, 30 years. So, behind those baby boomers, you don’t have many people from 35 to 50 years old. You got a lot of people that are under 35 and some of them haven’t felt the call to ministry yet, but there just aren’t enough people to fill the holes with the folks that are retiring right now.

So, that’s one dynamic and that’s in every industry. If you’re a pastor right now and you’re listening, you want to impress your board, just say, “I bet you’re facing a talent shortage. I bet you’ve got boomers retiring,” because it’s just birth rates.

Jon: The generation skip. The Gen X is smaller, Gen Y is large, but they’re too young to take over. So, there’s a shortage.

William: Exactly. You’ve also got a very unique circumstance in the baby boomers were the people that enjoyed the biggest prosperity in the country and it’s like, wow, we, can do anything. They didn’t live through a depression. They didn’t see Hitler almost take over the world. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have adversity and civil rights and lots of things to battle, but it’s almost created an invincibility as a generation and there are a lot of studies that show that.

So, you’ve got a whole lot of people who have a little bit of invincibility, and I love them. They’re great. Then you want to layer like five, six, seven more different little dynamics. Something happened in the 70s and people started planting churches that didn’t belong to denominations. So, like in the late 60s, the denominational churches really started to fall apart and become very dysfunctional.

They used to manage transitions. They used to set retirement ages and they all started sliding badly. My heritage is the Presbyterian church and it’s maybe a third of the size it was, maybe even worse than that from 1970 to now. So, they are going down and meanwhile, there are these people like this guy named Rick Warren in Hawaiian shirts out in California, who’s starting a weird new kind of thing.

Then there’s this guy, Bill Hybels in Chicago, they’re all riding on the shoulders of this guy named Robert Schuller, who was before … There’s this church growth movement that happens and people are planting great churches. In the mid 90s, the lines were going down for people attending at mainline churches or denominational churches. The lines were going up for non-denoms and they actually crossed.

So, in Protestant US, you’ve got far more people now that go to nondenominational churches, which is fine, but non-denominational churches don’t have associations or federations or more importantly networks for managing succession.

Jon: Got you.

William: So, you got this birth rate thing. You’ve got a little bit of invincibility. You’ve also got the fall of organized tribes of churches and now a rise of non-denoms and the people who planted the biggest nondenominational churches in the country that followed the Willow or the Saddleback way are all in that baby boomer category.

So, you’ve just got a weird decade ahead of us where a whole lot of the largest churches out there are facing succession and smaller churches are too, but frankly, the normal sized church, like 100 people that get together, that’s normal. Everybody else has kind of abnormal. The normal sized church, it’s like a cat with nine lives. They can survive a pastor coming and going and they do fine. The bigger the church, the harder it is.

Jon: Absolutely.

William: So, you’ve got these mega churches that have risen up over the last 20 years, and a lot of the guys running them are in that boomer age. So, it’s just a whole lot of little different circumstances-

Jon: That 20 years is an interesting … That 20 to 25 years, I don’t know what it was and maybe you can speak to it, but you think about the Life churches. I’ve talked to Pastor Craig about this. You got Church of the Highlands, you’ve got Gateway Church.

Even the church I pastor is 25 years old. What was happening at that time of life where these … Was the something, the soil was prepared or something was just a perfect storm. Is there something to that?

William: Al Gore invented the internet.

Jon: Touché.

William: Really. You think about it.

Jon: It’s so true.

William: You think about it. You think about the mega trends of church history and where the really big breakthroughs happen. Not we’re using drums in church but like really big breakthroughs, big-

Jon: Overhead projectors.

William: There you go. Quit using flannel graphs. The really big kingdom breakthroughs always happen on the heels of a really big communication breakthrough.

Jon: That’s so good.

William: Like Rome builds roads. So, Paul plants churches. You get one common Greek out of Alexander’s conquests and finally we can canonize the New Testament. Get a printing press, a Bible gets in people’s hands, and then whoever invented the internet. Well, right now, I think we’re in … If the Lord does wait to return, I think church history is going to look back on this 50, 75 years and say, “That was like a Renaissance time. That was a fertile, fertile time.”

Then you layer on top of that and a lot of the guys who were at the front edge of it are now at an age where retirement’s coming. Well, it’s a bit of a crisis. It’s a church tension. It’s intentionally tension.

Jon: There’s a tensionally intention tension. However that would be said. You walked 1,500 churches through this, plus. Are there similarities? Do you see … There’s got any patterns that you see develop.

William: I tell our new people we’ve been blessed to grow every year. We’ve got an amazing team, about 45 people that work with us in Houston, full time. No other job, which is crazy. I never would’ve thought that. When we’re training new people, I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, you’re in a growing organization, you become less and less necessary.

Jon: Absolutely.

William: Right. So, I don’t do a whole lot of the training of new people anymore. One of the things I do is tell them about all the history of the company and what we’ve done and I’ll say to them, “Here’s the thing, we’ve just done a whole lot of these,” and after you do them a while you realize some stuff and let me just tell you 1,500 churches, if you’ve seen one church, then you’ve seen about one church.

Jon: Wow.

William: That’s it.

Jon: Every one of them is unique.

William: Totally unique. If there’s a verse … There’s several that God puts on my heart now that I do what I do instead of ministry. They’re just different and one verse that just keeps coming up is when David said, “I’m fearfully and wonderfully made,” and that’s just one individual. You put a couple hundred of them together in a church and you can’t. If you meet somebody that says, “Here are the five easy steps to succession,” and out pops your solution run away fast.

Jon: That’s really good.

William: Because it’s way more complex than that. God would not be interested in us if we were routine.

Jon: That makes your job really hard.

William: It makes it fun. Fascinating. It makes it humbling.

Jon: That’s awesome. So, let me ask you this. Let’s talk about another tension. Is it, and you can completely … Yu wrote the book on it. You tell me if I’m wrong. I’m just thinking of, I’m processing through what are some reasons that a pastor … Wat is that fear? What are some of those fear elements?

William: Well, there are some commonalities there. So, one thing that on this, I don’t know the exact quote, but it’s like your greatest strength unguarded can be your weakness. So, what do they say the number one fear people have is? It’s public speaking. Study after study shows, it’s higher on the fear index than death, and that’s the old Jerry Seinfeld line. People would rather be the subject of a funeral than the speaker at the funeral.

Jon: If you like Seinfeld, I like you more. You’re now my favorite person.

William: So, people would rather just die, then speak at the funeral. So, whatever it is that God puts in a woman or a man that allows them to get up every week and not just publicly speak every week, but publicly say, “This is what God says for your life.” That’s a major, major gift, very rare, very uncommon. I think there’s a shadow side and it whispers in your ear saying, “You got one more year.”

If you look through the Bible and you say … I was not very good as a pastor, Jon. When it came time … About August, when we realized we don’t have enough children’s volunteers, I’d stand up and say, “We need volunteers.” That’s the worst way in the world to recruit volunteers.

Jon: That was your vision casting days.

William: It was awesome.

Jon: We need some volunteer.

William: No, it was worse than that. I’d say, “There is no retirement in the Bible. You may think you’re past parenting, but there is no retirement,” I was wrong. There is retirement in the Bible. It’s only mentioned a couple of places, one in particular and, and it’s a prescription for the priests and they have to retire. It’s mandatory retirement for the priests. It started, I thInk I’ll get the year wrong, but either at age 50 or age 55, and then it’s stretched out a little bit.

It started when they were back in the desert. So, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be a priest out in the desert when they’re wandering. Some of you guys that are listening are in churches that are meeting in high schools or movie theaters and you load in and load out every Sunday. You ain’t got-

Jon: Got nothing on them.

William: They look up and the cloud of the Lord’s moved and you know they just go, “Darn it. Really?” So, you get the candlesticks and you get the tent pegs and all of that, we’re going to move and it took forever. I had a researcher when I was a pastor said, “Tell me how long it took?” It was some ridiculous number of hours. So, the idea behind their prescription for retirement, now I don’t want to get all super charismatic on you, but I think it carries for today. Listen to why.

The priests needed to retire because there comes an age where carrying the things of God becomes too much for a man. Tent pegs in the desert, but there’s a pastor listening today who’s like-

Jon: I’m tired.

William: I’m not old. I still like preaching but man, this day-to-day stuff is killing me, and you don’t know who you can talk to about it. That is the reality and the fear that happens.

Jon: Because you don’t want to lose the … We’re human. Pastors are humans.

William: Totally.

Jon: So, we love … If I don’t preach for two or three weeks in a row, I’m miss it.

William: Absolutely.

Jon: I miss the pulpit. I miss preaching. There’s an element of that that you miss and let’s just get real. My dad was a pastor. I was a preacher’s kid. My dad didn’t start saving for retirement until he was in his mid 40s because he couldn’t afford to. So, some of the larger churches may not have that problem, but they might. There might just be a pastor who hasn’t been disciplined and set money aside, but a lot of these small church pastors, they don’t have the extra money to save for retirement. So, does that play an element into, okay, now I’m 60, I’m 65. I need to pass the torch, but if I do, let’s just be real.

Jon: I opted out of social security. I didn’t put away money like I should have. Do you ever see that come up? Do you see that as a play?

William: That’s so good.

Jon: It’s a tension, but let’s just be real.

William: Well, I would say you said, are there commonalities and I said, if you’ve seen one church, you’ve seen one church, but this would be the number one commonality. If you are not living within your means, it doesn’t matter how much I pay you, you’re not going to live within your means.

Jon: That’s good.

William: If you’ve got an employee that’s constantly in debt, giving him a raise will not solve it. That’s where my friend Dave Ramsey, who we’ve gotten to do a good amount of work for, I hope has provided a message that will help this next generation, but the people retiring now, it doesn’t matter whether they’re in 100 person church or tens of thousands. Oftentimes you get guys who planted a church and just kept giving back their salary to the church to keep pouring back in and the church never really catches up with paying them.

You got other places where you’ve got … We’re sitting here in Southlake, it’s a fairly affluent area. I guarantee you there’s a pastor somewhere in Southlake that is trying to be able to hang out with his members of his congregation, but it’s way past his ability on his income side. I can’t go to the golf course. We can’t go to that dinner event. I can’t give to the school that we get to go to “for free.” Everybody’s like, “Oh, y’all only have to work one day a week.” No, not really.

Where they say the pay is not good, but the retirement benefits are awesome. The eternal ones.

Jon: The eternal ones.

William: That’s right. Some of the smaller churches, I don’t like that word. I want to say normal sized churches, are doing better because a lot of them are using GuideStone. They’ve got up some kind of retirement plan that’s been put in place, but man, I won’t out some of the bigger names out there that just don’t have a clue what they’re going to do with money. You get used to living how you’re living, or maybe you only in the last five years are starting to get paid enough to make ends meet and you need another five. So, there’s just a … If you’ve got a pastor in your church who is not toward retirement age and younger, one of the best things you can add to their compensation-

Jon: This is good.

William: Give them $5,000 a year as a voucher to go to a certified financial planner and don’t do this. Don’t go, “Oh, we have one of those in the church. They could do it for them.” Pastors don’t want their members up in their box.

Jon: No they do not.

William: Give them $5,000 as a passive income, just kind of a taxable fringe benefit, which they can probably right back off and let them hire a financial planner and just look them dead in the eye and say, “Have you done your financial plan for this year?”

Jon: Yep. That’s what this is for, and don’t use it for anything else.

William: That’s what this is for. Don’t use it for anything else.

Jon: That’s good advice.

William: I think that some of the smartest pastors I’ve seen, who’ve gone well into retirement have been doing that planning for the last 10 years and gotten their house in order and churches need to do the same. They need to start planning for when their pastor retires does. You need to plan to have enough budget to carry two pastors for a couple years if you want to do like an overlap.

People are like, “William, that’s easy. People pay you money to do a search and then you tell them to spend more money.” You know what the most expensive thing a church can do is screw up a succession.

Jon: Preach that. That’s the truth. That’s way more expensive-

William: It doesn’t get anymore expensive-

Jon: No, it does not. That’s true.

William: So, it’s just the way it goes. I would say the monetary thing is a big piece. I would say the pastor not being able to give up the identity of-

Jon: The influence, the identity.

William: The influence, the preaching, I don’t know, I’ve sat in that senior pastor chair. So, I’ve got some firsthand experience and I don’t know a job on the planet, except maybe being president of the United States, that absorbs and consumes more of your identity than being a pastor.

Jon: That’s true.

William: It’s where you do your work. It’s where you do your own spiritual pilgrimage. It’s where you have your friends. It’s where you do weddings. It’s where you bury loved ones, it’s where you marry loved ones. It’s-

Jon: Where you raise your kids.

William: And it’s 24/7. You’re never off. There’s so much identity tied into that, that when it goes away, it’s really hard on people. The church I pastored in Houston, it’s a great church. It wasn’t as big as Gateway, but it was about 5,000 adults and it was a lot of community leaders. So, I don’t know if you remember, we had a senator here in Texas, Lloyd Bentsen years ago. He ran for vice-president and lost, but Clinton named him secretary of the treasury.

He was the one in the debate … If you YouTube it, he’s the one that looked at Dan Quayle and said, “I knew Jack Kennedy and you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

Jon: You’re no Jack Kennedy.

William: So, Senator Bentsen died, he was in our church. I buried him, but before that, they asked me to be a guest chaplain in the Senate. So, you go up for a day and you pray and you meet with all these senators. He’d had a stroke. So, Ms. Bentsen arranged the trip and I spent the day meeting a lot of people I’d never voted for and had a good visit with everybody. My host for the day was guy named Tom Daschle. So, Tom Daschle was the Senate majority leader. He was from one of the Dakotas and that next fall, out of the blue, he lost his election.

I don’t know how you lose in the Dakotas. It feels like you could just call everyone.

Jon: Call them or knock on their door.

William: Every single person, but he did and I felt sorry for him. So, I called Ms. Bentsen and I said, “Ms. Bentsen, I’d like to drop him a note. He was so nice to me. Is there a good way to get in touch with him?” She said, “Let me give you his home phone number.” I’m like, Ms. Bentsen, I’m not calling Senator Daschle at home.” Here’s what she said, and think of this pastors. She said, “William, you have no idea how little the phone rings once you’re not in office.”

Jon: Wow. Once you’re not in office.

William: It is so true. When I left being a senior pastor, it was like, I just wasn’t as necessary as I thought it was. That really, and you know where else it hits Jon? It hits pastor’s spouses. Big time. That’s the chapter in the book we couldn’t write or we’d have gotten run out of town.

Jon: How so? Elaborate on that.

William: Have you heard of the Criswell family here? There’s a lot of … I think Ms. Criswell had a harder time leaving First Baptist Dallas than Dr. Criswell and there’s just story after story of … Now, I’m making assumptions here. Most pastors are men, doesn’t mean they have to be. I’m not making a theological statement, but most pastors-

Jon: Statistically speaking.

William: It’s just the probability is, and most of them are buried. So, Catholic friends, this is going to apply to you. Sorry, but you as a guy are the pioneer who goes off to this thing God’s called you to. A land you do not know and all that.

Well, then there’s this woman that comes behind that has to plant a family, plant roots, plant, plant, plant, plant, plant, and really get embedded in the community. Then you tell her, “By the way, I don’t know if we can go to church there anymore.”

Jon: Wow. Where they put all the roots down.

William: And we can’t issue any opinions, and I know that our granddaughter’s on the praise team that might need to go away too.

Jon: So, true.

William: It’s just like, “Are you serious? I have sweat. I have been a widow three nights a week while you’ve been out doing your thing and you’re going to tell me now when I can finally relax that I got to give up my community.”

Jon: It’s really good.

William: I don’t think churches think through that, and it doesn’t mean you can’t go to the church, all those things that are out there. Just hypotheticals. It’s not always the case, but I think churches are a little shortsighted in remembering how much of the pastor’s identity and his family’s identity gets wrapped up into successful ministry.

Jon: So, much so.

William: So, when they’re asked to leave, like a church would do well to think, all right, well then how do we honor that? How do we create a place for them? Maybe not in the church, but how do we … We had one succession where we were working years ago and it just wasn’t going well and the guy wouldn’t retire, but needed to retire. It was getting close to getting ugly and the board just looked at me and said, “Go fix it.” I said, “What do you mean?” “Well, just see what you can do to make him happy and create a win-win.” I’m like, “It might be expensive.”

They said, “You know what? Take the checkbook. Just tell us what happened” And they were well-intended people, but it’s a long, tense story. So, I’m sitting in his office and we’re visiting and I’m looking over his head and there’s this big map of China. I hadn’t ever noticed it before. I look over in the corner of his office and there’s like stuff from China, like little dolls and things.

So, we start talking about China. He’s like, “Oh man, if I could do anything, well, it would be, go and reach those people. I’ve just got such a heart for that and we’ve always tried to do it in our missions portfolio, but I’ve been pastoring.” So, I’m like, “Give me a minute.”

Jon: Give me a minute.

William: Go back to the board, said, ” What do you think we fund him for three years, give him enough time to get a runway and start raising some money. Make it the major mission portfolio in your church’s mission portfolio. Make it the main thing,” and it worked. What did we do? We found a way for the pastor to keep doing ministry.

Jon: Something that fed him.

William: Yeah, the priest. So, here’s what happened when the priest would retire in the Old Testament, two things happen. First thing that happened was the rest of the community was still required to provide for that pastor till they died.

Jon: That’s good.

William: So, there’s financial-

Jon: There’s a provision.

William: There’s a provision. Second thing was the priest didn’t carry stuff around like they used to, but they still had an obligation to serve.

Jon: So, they’re still involved.

William: They’re doing something and pastors that I’ve met are really horrible at sitting still.

Jon: So, much so.

William: So, I think if there were two things you could get your head around you’re like, what are the commonalities? What do we work on? One is just flat money, which no one really wants to admit, but it’s true.

Jon: Let’s be honest.

William: Two is identity. Even if you’ve got the money, playing golf gets old after a while, and I know you like to play, but-

Jon: Every day, it’d get old.

William: How many rounds can you play before you say, “I don’t…” Do you talk to this little ball about whether it’s going to heaven or not? I don’t know what do.

Jon: Like Wilson. Wilson.

William: That’s it. That’s it.

Jon: Talking to the volleyball.

William: I think it’s money. It’s finding identity, it’s finding a way for pastors to be able to still do ministry. It’s also caring for their entire family and thinking through what that looks like-

Jon: That impacts everybody.

William: Those are the three big rocks.

Jon: So, real quickly before we end, I want you to address because you got two different types of succession plan. You got ones that are planned and ones that happen overnight and you have to just crisis situation. There was no plan, no one planned for this, but there was a moral failure. There was something that happened. Do you get called into some of those situations?

William: Sounds like you’ve been through that.

Jon: I’ve walked through something similar to that at one point in my life. So, talk about that for a minute. What do you see in those situations?

William: We started getting these calls. “Oh, the pastor did this and he had to leave. Can you come help us?” “Oh, the pastor did that.” You know what I felt like, Jon? I felt like, you ever drive down a highway and see those billboards with attorneys on them?

Jon: Yeah. You felt like that?

William: I felt like that and it didn’t feel good-

Jon: Like a bail bonds.

William: We were like ambulance chaser. Oh, you had an accident. Here I am. I’m like, Lord, no. No, no, no. Get somebody else. That’s not me.” The Lord really spoke to me in a very clear way and said, “Look, here’s the deal. This is going to keep happening, and I need somebody to help. Yeah. So, either you can do it or I’ll find somebody else, but this will keep happening until we get to the other side of the river.”

So, we do get a lot of these calls and it’s getting harder and harder to surprise me, but it still happens. I think what I’m learning, the main thing in the crisis is … You’re old enough to remember Reagan getting shot, right?

Jon: Yes.

William: So, vice president Bush-

Jon: I was young. I was very, very young, but I remember.

William: Eight months. So, Reagan gets shot. Vice president Bush-

Jon: I have a very good memory.

William: Well, vice-president Bush is out of the country and there are no cell phones and he wasn’t available. So, there’s this thing going on Washington for 20, 30, 40 minutes where nobody knew who was in charge and Alexander Haig, who was secretary of state, he stood up in front of a podium, he said, “I’m in charge.” Well, he wasn’t in charge. He’s like fifth or sixth in succession, but he knew-

Jon: Somebody had to.

William: Somebody has got to own the comm. So, I encourage churches think right now.

Jon: That’s good.

William: You don’t have to think about what happens if the pastor fails. How about if he gets hit by a bus? Because that’s actually a pretty easy conversation for … Develop an emergency succession plan and the focal point should be communication.

Jon: That’s good.

William: Who’s going to stand in front of mic? Here are the key things that need to happen and they’re going to happen and we’re going to get through this. What I’ve found working with a whole lot of churches in a lot of pain is if they feel like there’s somebody, that’s got the mic, that’s going to lead, not trying to be the next pastor right away, but lead and give communication, it makes all the difference. So, there’s just not a ton of tension around saying, “Well, why didn’t our first conversation wander around an emergency succession plan?”

Jon: That’s good.

William: Who would preach if you were out? What are the other key duties that need to be fulfilled? Are you the chief fundraiser? Are you the guy that goes to the hospital every time somebody’s sick? Just make a list of the things that only you, pastor can do and how would those get farmed out for the 90 or 120 days that you’re either sick or incapacitated or until they can get a plan for what the next pastor is.

Jon: That’s really good. So, let’s close with this. I like to close a lot of our podcasts with giving the guests the opportunity to lean into the mic and talk to a specific group of people of our listeners. So, let’s have you lean in and talk to the pastor who’s, whether they’re feeling burned out and they know that they need to transition. They’re sensing it, but there’s no succession plan or let’s say they’re aging out and they’re sensing that, but they don’t know how to let go.

They don’t know how to do … You know the tension they’re battling within their minds. Talk them through some things. Give them a pep talk, man. Give them the fourth quarter pep-talk and go out and finish strong. What would you say to them? We just kind of close with that.

William: Well, never quit on Monday.

Jon: That’s good.

William: That’s just, don’t quit on Monday.

Jon: I learned that early on. Don’t make any decisions on Mondays.

William: No, and there are actually studies about this. The high of preaching is always followed by a low. It’s almost kind of a manic thing. So, never quit on Monday. The other thing I’d say is you’re not alone. There are so many people out there that are in your situation and people call us, whether it’s a church calling to find a new pastor or a pastor that’s in this zone that you described and they’ll be all nervous and I’ve never done this.

I’d say, “Folks, you know what you remind me of? You remind me of how I think I sounded the first day I went to counseling. I’m just nervous. I don’t know why, I’ve never done this before. You’re not alone. It’s okay.” We’d be honored to pray with you and talk to you, but I’d also encourage you, after you don’t quit on Monday, after you realize you’re not alone, think back to when you first got into ministry. I’m guessing somebody told you, you were crazy for stepping out in faith.

Jon: That’s really good.

William: Because that’s what faith is all about. Stepping out into the unknown, to the land you don’t know, to the Hebrews 11 roll call. To people that didn’t know what was going on, that’s right where you are again.

Jon: That’s good.

William: And you did this before and you can do it again. The same God that put the faith in you to take those steps years ago is the God that’s going to put the faith in you to take steps into an unknown that’s really scary, but you’re not alone. You got a God that will walk with you and give you the faith to take those steps and now they’re resources and people that can help you.

Jon: That’s so good. So, tell our listeners how they can get in touch with you.

William: You just Google Vanderbloemen. Just spell it.

Jon: Just spell it. It’s super easy to spell. It’s not a hard last name to spell at all.

William: I didn’t want to name it Vanderbloemen at all. In fact, I bought 300 domain names. Wellfindyourpastor.com. Wesetupthechurch.com. I have a lifetime platinum status with GoDaddy and I hired the guys that know how search engines work to tell me which domain to use, and they said, “Use Vanderbloemen.” I’m like, I don’t want to do-

Jon: It’s unique.

William: That’s exactly what said. They actually said … I don’t think they’re Christian. So, they said, “Your last name is so screwed up that if you just misspell it into Google, it’ll pop right back up.”

Jon: It’s actually true. You can just jump on and start to type in William Vanderbloemen and just put in Vander and it’ll pop up.

William: That’s it. The only other guy you’ll get … There’s only one other William Vanderbloemen and he’s a security guard at a college in Wisconsin.

Jon: Security guard in Wisconsin.

William: I get a Google alert when he arrests people.

Jon: There’s a Jon Chasteen. There’s lots of J-O-H-N’s. There’s only one other Jon Chasteen, J-O-N and guess what he does. He’s a pastor in the New England area. So, Jon, if you’re listening, we need to connect, man.

William: That’s awesome.

Jon: That’s awesome. Thank you again for coming. I know your time is very valuable. Again, if you’re a pastor, if you’re in the ministry, if you’re on a board, if you’re a lay person in the church, you need to connect your pastor to this man, to his ministry. Thank you so much for being on. We love you so much listeners and keep listening, like our podcast. Give us a review, share us on social media, help us get the word out with what’s happening here at the Church InTension podcast. We will see you next time.

Church InTension
Church InTensionhttps://church-intension.simplecast.com
The Church InTension podcast is a place to have healthy conversations about areas of tension and the intentions of the Church. Hosted by Dr. Jon Chasteen and powered by The King's University and Gateway Church.