On Pastoral Succession
A couple of thoughts come to mind: the problem of preparing for a successor is inevitably more acute in some senses in a smaller church without the resources to have more than one full-time pastor. Such churches may not have the problem of losing the big name draw, which is surely a difficulty for large churches, but they may also lack resources to have an obvious, internal successor. Preparation for succession means something very different there and is more likely to be focused on making sure that the session or elder board is competent to oversee an external search.
Second, the history of the church is littered with tales of congregations which went spectacularly bad in an incredibly short period of time because the wrong successor was chosen. Liam Goligher recently recounted to me a piece of advice that Richard Bewes had once given him: `Always appoint a successor who is more theologically conservative than you are because most pastors mellow and move a little to the left as they grow older.' It does not take great subtlety of intellect to anticipate what will happen if the appointment is thus made to the left of a current incumbent.
The elite watchmaker, Patek Philippe had a slogan at one time that was something like this: `You never really own a Patek Philippe; you merely look after it for the next generation.' Thus it is with churches, in terms of the vibrancy of their life and their orthodoxy. Those privileged enough to be involved in the appointment of their own successors, or those who can merely shape the nature of the session which will oversee the search, need to make sure they make the right choices. They do not own the church; they are merely looking after her for the next generation.