Leadership Succession

July 18, 2011

Dear Marketplace Friend,

    Some who are biblically-challenged could think this is a quote from the Old Testament book of Proverbs: “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em; know when to walk away and know when to run. You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table. There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.” (Kenny Rogers, not Solomon. The Gambler, not Proverbs).
    Founders of Movements can be weird ducks. They (we?) live in the future; their view is always “over the rainbow,” beyond the horizon. They are firmly rooted in tomorrow… and tomorrow never comes. Their impact on people is compelling, recruiting folks with time, talent and treasure who come alongside to make the Dream (the Founder’s Dream) come true…
    Problem? Often, those Originators (The Master’s Program term for a founder, with a vision) live as if they will never die, and as if their current status is “good as ever,” with no decline. If they were the perfect leader for yesterday, they must still be the perfect leader for the movement-turned-organization today, heading into tomorrow. They missed Kenny Rogers’ wisdom, from the chorus…
    The Orange County Register used to have a “Religion Page,” every Saturday, featuring ads (paid for by churches) and articles (usually fluff, but well intended) about upcoming fundraisers and rallies. Today, the Religion Page has been long-buried (no mention in the Obituaries, but dead, nonetheless). The only two churches who still get coverage: Saddleback (always positive), and the Crystal Cathedral.
    If you haven’t heard: one of America’s first notable mega-churches is in mega-trouble. Since its founding in 1955 – in a drive-in movie theater – Robert H. Schuller’s approach to church has always been provocative. His “good news” was “possibility thinking.” His methods emphasized media exposure; mostly purchased television time. His real estate interests were on a grand scale, so he built a church campus anchored by the signature core building – the Crystal Cathedral – all of it “free and clear” because of well-orchestrated building fund drives with the local and television audiences…
    Months of headlines, in a nutshell: the church is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The transparency of that process has exposed multiple Schuller family members on the church payroll at high cost, while nearly $50 million in operations-related debt has put CC on the financial ropes. The demand: sell the property to satisfy the creditors. Current bidders include a developer who will build apartments, a local secular university who will do education, the local Catholic diocese who need a cathedral… and a church with pentecostal/prosperity leanings (37 miles away) who are proposing a “friendly takeover.” The debt-free buildings are the only asset that can satisfy the debt-laden operations, and the next steps are now in the hands of a bankruptcy judge in a courtroom in Santa Ana…

    This is more than a “family (Schuller) matter;” it is more than a “local church issue” (the footprint of the Hour of Power is international). It is very public; in fact, it is recurrent front-page news. What’s the take-away, if you’re not directly involved in the sad scenario?
    Just this: leadership succession – and securing the future for the people within a movement – is an oft-neglected part of a senior leader’s responsibility. Ministry is a “family business,” but not the kind of FB modeled at the CC. It’s God’s family, and the models offered in the Bible portrayed internal development of next-generation leaders who would succeed the seniors in an orderly transition. Moses to Joshua; Elijah to Elisha; David to Solomon; Jesus to the Twelve; Paul to Timothy; the baton was passed well… and never sold-at-auction to satisfy the creditors.
    To my colleagues who are CEOs of churches and ministries: what are you doing to assure that what you’ve led will continue to thrive – at even greater levels of effectiveness – under the leader who will follow you? Feel free to forward this to a leader you respect, and for whom you care deeply…
Bob Shank






One response to “Leadership Succession”

  1. Mick Avatar

    Good perspective!

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