As a young boy, I remember sneaking into my father’s closet searching for the nicest, shiniest pair of shoes that I could find. One of my dad’s weekly rituals was pulling out the ole shoe-shining kit and buffing those wingtips until they reflected perfection and precision.
To my dad, there was nothing like wearing a shiny pair of shoes. Those wingtips were a sign of pride and dignity to my dad’s generation. Those shoes represented the steps of a man who had overcome much while building a great local church where many would discover hope in Christ.
It was during these closet-invading charades that I would slip my undersized feet into those wingtips and mimic the steps of a man 25 years older than me. Those shoes were huge, and his steps were too big to take at the time! I only imagined and dreamed of the day that I would fit into those shoes.
Fast-forwarding several years, as a young adult, I found myself serving my parents vision for 17 years. In the beginning, as the student pastor and also playing drums on the worship team, my feet were growing quickly to one day fit the shoes of my dad, the Lead Pastor. Eventually, finding myself in the role of Executive Pastor I realized that this was no longer the dream of a young boy playing charades in his father’s closet; this was real life! Not only was I prepared to walk in my father’s shoes; it was now time to take the big step.
In April of 2012, I was named the Lead Pastor of Living Waters and started walking in his shoes. What I failed to realize in the transition from one generation to another was that although we literally and figuratively wore the same size shoe, our styles and preferences of how to do church was completely different.
The church I saw was a dynamically diverse church whose mission was to impact people both inside and outside the walls of the church. I had no idea that shorter services, lights and haze machines, casual dress, a change in the worship style and last, but not least, a new church name would help bring new folks into our church – or cause such uproar. Although my dad and I wore the same size shoe, our styles were completely different. We were after two completely different generations of people with divergent cultures.
Although hundreds of churched people would leave, hundreds of un-churched people would finally give ‘church’ a try preferring something new and different. In 3 years, i5 Church would grow exponentially, reaching not only the un-churched, but also empowering the ‘churched’ to live beyond themselves and love beyond their preferences. This is the vision of i5 Church: Building a dynamically diverse church while impacting people to impact the world.
There are three powerful lessons that I have learned from succession and transition.
#1 The success of succession requires sacrifice from both generations.
I found that the difference of cultural and generational styles required the same level of sacrifice. The success of transition and succession depends on the willingness of both the former and the present leader to sacrifice equally. Some might call this compromise, however through 3 years of transition the word sacrifice is much more suitable.
Mutual sacrifice is critical for a successful handoff. My parents had spent 17 years shining a pair of wingtips called Living Waters. Now here comes this know-it-all, wet-behind-the-ears, T-shirt, jeans and sneaker-wearing pastor that doesn’t prefer wingtips. Our preaching styles were different but so were our approaches and how we saw reaching the next generation. Our relationship remained intact even though we saw things differently – my father genuinely wanted me to take the church into the next generation.
I learned very quickly that since my parents were willing to sacrifice what they had built for over a decade that I had to be willing to make some sacrifices. For me, those sacrifices meant understanding that every new idea wasn’t cooler or better than the previous, and that all traditions weren’t sacred cows that needed to be tipped over.
Mutual sacrifice eventually enabled i5 Church to reach a more diverse group of people!
#2 Making changes in your church too fast will cause people to leave your church real fast.
Although change is inevitable with any transition, change requires strategy and timing. During the first year of my role as Lead Pastor, many people became casualties of rapid non-calculated, non-strategic change. Not only did I change things too fast, I also changed things too frequently. The result was a congregation who become change-fatigued which resulted in many people being confused and uncertain of the vision.
What I learned through this transition was that doing the right thing at the wrong time is just as bad as doing the wrong thing. Change requires communicating why we need to change before ever making most changes. Our church was indeed in need of change, but the people were more in need of me communicating the vision before I would ever ask them to accept the mission. People need to know the why’s of the what!
Currently, before most changes at i5 we say, “Let’s make sure we drip it before we drop it! Some people still like wearing shiny wingtips every once in a while, and that’s ok with me.
#3 Different doesn’t necessarily mean better.
This is the most powerful lesson that I have learned throughout my short tenure as Lead Pastor. As God began growing our church very rapidly I mistakenly and somewhat arrogantly had attributed our growth to having better ideas, better leadership, and a better approach to ministry. I had unintentionally taken God out of the equation.
It was one evening during dinner when my 14-year-old daughter said, “Dad, how are you going to feel when I change all of your ideas to my ideas?” As I laughed outwardly, inwardly I was convicted. She continued by saying, “I love everything we’re doing, but I’ll probably change it just liked you changed Poppi’s and Mimi’s church.”
It was at this moment that I realized my better-than attitude. I had to learn to accept and appreciate wingtips, traditional music, and the old regime just as much as I wanted my parent’s generation to accept our new music, new lights, and the new approach to ministry. After this lesson from my 14-year-old daughter, I now accept and embrace the generational differences. This has formed the foundation for creating a culture of diversity in our church. The more diverse we are in our ministry approach in church, the more diverse the group of people we will reach outside of the church.
As a Church, my desire is now to have as many styles of shoes in our closet as possible. This creates a culture where anybody, everybody and anyone can fit in at i5 Church! I believe that this is the heart of God: to live beyond ourselves we must learn to love beyond our preferences.
These three lessons have been the key to the success of succession at i5 Church.