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Pope Benedict’s Retirement: Are Church and Nonprofit Leaders Watching?

I was so impressed by the retirement announcement from Pope Benedict, that for a minute or two, I almost became a Catholic. His courage in facing the reality of declining health, potentially poor decision making, and the toll on his psyche was admirable. In spite of the pressure (no Pope has retired in 600 years) he had the integrity to make the right decision. Now contrast that with many pastors, ministry, and nonprofit leaders. With media ministries, they stay on the air way past their ability to not embarrass themselves. They fumble around, say inappropriate things, and generally make the Church look foolish to the world. Long time pastors aren’t much different. They refuse to step down and in the process, completely undermine a transition to a new leader.

I realize it’s tough. My own father was a pastor, and even after a debilitating stroke, tried to keep preaching. In his first sermon back after the stroke he fell at the pulpit, and our family finally made the decision that he had to step down.

But that’s what’s missing in many of these major churches and ministries: a family or leadership team with enough spine to force them (if necessary) to make the right decision. Whatever reason you have for allowing him or her to keep their leadership role – I would encourage you to reconsider. If they’re not advancing the cause of Christ, then what’s the point? They’ve most likely had a great career, and at some point, it’s time to step down.

Do the right thing. Don’t let a leader who won’t deal with reality damage the future of the church, ministry, or nonprofit.

Without naming names, are you at an organization where an aging leader needs to step down?  Why do you think he or she is still in a position of influence?


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  1. Yes, I work for one of those ministries. The main leader built this place from the ground up, and he doesn’t want to leave. I can’t blame him… if I poured my heart and soul into one place for 30+ years like he has, what would I do after I stepped down? I also think that there is a very real concern that if he leaves, a lot of our donor base will go with him………

    1. Donor’s leaving is an issue that should be dealt with early. I know one pastor who’s picked his successor, even though he plans another 10-15 years in the pulpit. By the time he retires, everyone will know and love the next generation leader. Good planning makes a huge difference…

  2. Who owns the nondom?

    Have nondom pastors increased the retardation of skepticism of sheep?

    Who owns the nondom?

    Answer: Perhaps nobody, but the board, which at some select point can point asset sales towards some non-heavenly account, usually somebody’s.

    Why tithe and give towards a nondom, which won’t pay kid’s tuition at college (like Mormons do) and which won’t sell assets during crisis to pay upside-down mortgages of the sheared (sort of like the story of Joseph might tell some leaders to do?) and which won’t let sheep own shares in the buildings they pay for.

    Who owns the nondom? And why don’t the sheep, actually own it by pro-rated title?

  3. I visited a Baptist church in Cuba recently, where I learned that members vote on the lead pastor every year. I was in shock, horrified, and then in awe.

  4. I think we need to be careful not to let our culture’s affection for young leaders fool us into despising and writing off the leadership of the older generation of guardians.

  5. I served at a church whose previous pastor was asked to step down due to poor health and declining mental capabilities. It ushered in more than a decade of incredible ministry following his “retirement.” It’s difficult, but, many times, we must lead with our heads and not our hearts! Not to sound insensitive, but logic and the obvious must be taken into account. It could save someone from damaging their stellar, well-respected ministry in the long run, and save a church for great ministry under new leadership.

  6. Phil, I couldn’t agree more. Our senior pastor just retired after 37 years at our church. He was still active, a visionary, and extraordinarily capable to do the job to which God had called him. But at 62, it was time to make room for the next generation. Upon retirement, he and his wife have disappeared on a 10-month vacation so that the new senior pastor (in his 40s and brought on 7 years ago for this very purpose) can take the reins of our church in his own right. I’ve never seen a better transition with less conflict and more love EVER. It taught me a great deal about knowing when to bow out.

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