Why You Need a Sherpa to Find a Successor


Navigating pastoral succession can be a difficult process, especially in the midst of a crisis or when it is a new process for you and your church. Luckily, churches who have done succession well can serve as a guide, or sherpa, to outline the path of succession. A sherpa is someone who has gone the path before you, knows the way to the finish line, and will walk alongside you through your journey. Much like those traveling the difficult journey up Mt. Everest, it is important that pastors have a sherpa to help them navigate the difficult journey of succession.

For many pastors, It is hard to know where to find potential candidates, what a good candidate looks like, or when to even begin the process of looking. Fortunately, having a sherpa as a guide through the process can help answer these questions. Here are some of the tips for finding the right candidate that I’ve learned after conducting hundreds of leadership transitions.

  1. Understand That The Bigger The Age Difference, The Greater The Likelihood Of Change – When pastors are looking for successors, they often want to find someone younger with new ideas who will be able to stay at the church for a long time. The problem with this type of thinking comes when pastors forget that new ideas mean change. Change is often healthy for churches during times of transition, but hard to pull off. When looking at younger successors, make sure that they are up for the challenges that come about from change. It is also important to work with your congregation now to create a culture of change to ensure that they prepared in advance for the changes that will occur during succession.
  2. Internal Candidates Are Often the Best Matches – When looking for a successor, consider finding someone from within the church. Internal candidates already know and are known by the church, which can make the process much smoother. Furthermore, internal candidates will already know whether or not they are a good culture fit, and if they’ll be able to lead well in their new role. If you believe that your church has no internal candidates, start developing outside relationships that can you find a potential successor and allow them to become familiarized with your church family. You might be surprised how many internal candidates you have that are not currently members of your congregation.
  3. Sources to Find Outside Candidates – Develop a pipeline from your internal network (staff, church leaders, members, guest speakers, etc.) through intentional leadership development. Ask trusted individuals who know your church for recommendations of potential successors. Prayerfully seek out those recommendations to find a good fit. If you are still struggling to find a candidate, consider hiring a search firm who can not only help bring you new candidates but also guide you through finding the best fit from the candidates you do have.
  4. Keep the Board and Congregation Informed – It’s important that as you walk through the process of succession those who will be affected by it are not left in the dark. If you think you are over-communicating with your board and congregation, you are probably just starting to communicate enough. Frequent updates and communication will not only make your members feel more involved in the process but will also encourage them to be supportive of the next successor. Communicate with your members to help ensure you choose the right successor for your specific church. 

Successful succession requires more than just good candidates, it requires careful thinking, planning, and praying. With over 200 years of combined ministry experience, our team understands the challenges that come with change and can serve as your sherpa as you look to find your church’s best fit. Vanderbloemen offers a free succession readiness tool that is available to help you start the process. And if you want a game plan to hire your next leader, take a look at our recently updated and expanded book Next: Pastoral Succession That Works or connect with our team to start the conversation.


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