Replacing a Great Leader Without Replacing Them

horse ranch Replacing a Great Leader Without Replacing Them

Have you ever wondered why it is so hard to replace a great leader? We often think it’s the unique gifts of that leader that will be difficult to replace—so, we seek a leader with similar gifts to replace them. We believe our church, organizations, etc., needs those gifts to survive. Sometimes, that may be the case.

But not usually.

Usually, there is a leadership system in place that requires those gifts in a single person—that’s why they are so indispensable. The leader, with their gifts, has helped shape that system, and the system has shaped the leader to some extent. Another way to say this is the leader functioned the way they did because of the church system you have in place, and the leader influenced the way the system functioned.

Perhaps then an alternative to finding a leader just like the one who departed is to adapt your system to allow other kinds of leaders to thrive. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hire an unusually talented pastor. By all means, do it if you can. However, just be aware you are unlikely to find another one should they depart–so don’t build a system that requires someone exactly like them to fill that ministry role.

Some churches have a ministry system built around a leader so unique they are a pastoral unicorn. So, when they leave, the church looks for another unicorn, instead of transforming the unicorn pen into a horse ranch that can host quarter-horses, mustangs, thoroughbreds, or…unicorns. Make no mistake, leaders have gifts. Equally, if not more important is the system in which the leader functions.

Don’t build a unicorn stable. Build a ranch in which a unicorn can thrive…should you capture one. However, it should be noted that most churches that prevail over time don’t have any unicorns—they have a stable of strong, healthy, disciplined horses for a long time. Some race, some haul things, but all have discipline and purpose. Those two traits, above white coats and single horns is what makes great leaders—and great churches—great.

Most churches feel the pain but miss the opportunity of staff changes. They see the situation as “gifts lost.” This is, no doubt, sometimes the case. Nevertheless, it’s also an opportunity to build something more flexible, nimble, and lasting. It’s a chance for you to adapt to what’s changing in your church or organization. The best time to do it is now.

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Share Your Thoughts

One thought on “Replacing a Great Leader Without Replacing Them

  1. Oh. my. We have been discussing something similar in relation to a family business with the founder still at the helm – he wants to retire but all the crucial elements still revolve around him. He thinks he needs to be replaced by a replica of himself before he can truly step down and retire. But I have been saying that what is really needed is a leadership team where all the necessary skills and knowledge exist within the team. One person does not have to possess all the abilities. This is so typical of successful entrepreneurs/founders who are unable to see/appreciate a healthy team, management skills, etc. It may take a unicorn to get a business or church launched, but it will take a diverse team to carry it on.