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Developing God-First Leaders by John C. Reynolds and Andrew Barton

Christian Leadership Alliance

By John C. Reynolds and Andrew Barton ~

Frequently, ministry leaders see succession management as the domain of well-funded corporate entities with complex HR departments and elaborate leadership development strategies. However, to do so misses a critical element of a ministry’s future. The goal of an intentional organizational succession management process — whether sophisticated or simple — is to attract and retain talented employees who will drive growth and performance towards missional goals. So how might this work?

Build a Talent Pool

Proactively developing a talent pool for the future is both strategic and pragmatic. Intentionally building a talent pool of internal and externally recruited candidates ready to take the helm of leadership in your organization is good stewardship of leadership time and effort.

This talent pool approach requires a longer-term and more intentional view towards identifying, developing and shaping the next generation of leaders. We should ask what our future leaders should look like. The benefit of a talent pool is that it provides the organization the ability to develop employees for a variety of roles as well as greater flexibility in placing them in open positions.

Differential Treatment

The concern with developing internal talent pools is that the organization is singling out a group of people for special treatment. This is often a greater challenge in Christian organizations where equity in treating employees is a value held in high regard. However developing the potential for future leaders requires organizations be particular and selective.

A talent pool shouldn’t mean that all other employees are ignored, but rather this smaller group of individuals has tailored development opportunities to help refine their suitability for future leadership. In The Alliance: Managing Talent in a Networked Age (Harvard Business Review Press, 2014), authors Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh suggest giving employees in the pool “stretch assignments,” which can serve as highly effective and low-cost development and retention strategies for such employees.

Talent does not always equate to success, and vice versa. In the article “How definitions of talent suppress talent management,” Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 45, (Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2013), doctoral researcher Suzanne Ross offers insight into the development of future leadership and suggests talent pools should be seen as a mechanism to help organizations better understand whether someone has the potential to play out that talent in the future.

Formal Learning and Talent Development

Effective organizations intentionally coordinate the learning strategies for employees with the development of their talent. Formal education experiences are often an effective vehicle for developing the skills, behaviors and attitudes necessary in future leaders. Investing in your talent pool through skills, knowledge and competency development (certification, micro-credentials, workshops etc.), or formal degree programs is affirming and shows your commitment to a leader for the organization’s future.

Flexibility through online learning, competency-based degrees and market-relevant content is available through many reputable Christian universities and colleges. At Azusa Pacific University College, we offer undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs that enable development of leaders through a formal program to invest in their future as kingdom-builders while in ministry and without residency. Understanding that there are a number of current and future leaders with much experience, we are developing a new Masters in Executive Leadership (Organizational Leadership) that recognizes experience for academic credit, focused on helping the next generation of leaders examine their intrapersonal values style, the interpersonal interaction and leadership contributions from an organizational perspective.

Ongoing Heart Connection with God

As Christian leaders, we are continually striving toward effectiveness and efficiency in the context of a Christian identity and witness to the world. Succession planning is no different, and we are diligent in seeking models of those who have gone before us and have done it well. Scripture does not reveal many successful succession-planning models, but Joshua succeeding Moses is an exception.

The starting point for the Christian leader is that ultimately God is sovereign and, although we strive for a successful model, it must always be in the context that God has a perfect plan, which may be different than what you and I are thinking. This is not an excuse for not developing future talent, but is a faithful recognition that God has a purpose and future beyond our vision and human minds for the ministry we are called for.

Talent requires not only formal development, but also the nurturing of leaders in their spiritual, professional and personal growth. Busy leaders are not able to do this for all, so identifying and committing energy and time is a strategic and discerning investment. The Outcomes Mentoring Network available as a CLA resource is an excellent resource that might supplement your capacity to mentor your key talent.

In The Succession Principle, Dr. David L. McKenna discusses the sacred trust inherent to succession planning: “Our legacy will be written not in the good things that we have done as Christian leaders, but in the great things that our successor will do.” Invest in your leadership legacy by identifying, nurturing and developing those who will lead after you.


John C. Reynolds, Ph.D., is executive vice president, Azusa Pacific University and chancellor/CEO of Azusa Pacific University College. Andrew Barton, MBA, is ?special assistant to the president, Azusa Pacific University . This post is an excerpt from the 2015 Summer edition of Outcomes Magazine.




What is Christian Leadership Alliance?

Christian Leadership Alliance equips and unites leaders to transform the world for Christ. We are the leaders of Christ-centered organizations who are dedicated to faithful stewardship for greater kingdom impact.

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