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What Succeeds a Heart Attack? By Larry Gadbaugh

Have you ever wondered what succeeds a heart attack?

On November 8 I had a heart attack.

It wasn’t in my strategic plan. What they call “the Widow-Maker,” since I had no family history, no health indicators, or symptoms of heart problems.

But, the good news is, I’ve had good recovery, a good prognosis, and my wife is not a widow. Thanks to God’s mercy, my wife’s quick response, and amazing medical technology (stent), I’m writing this blog instead of spell-checking my name in the Book of Life. And, after taking a poll of my Board and staff, the majority of them are glad that I’m still here.

Different Perspective

This event now colors everything in my life. Meeting my mortality prompts me to live more intentionally in light of eternity.

As a leader, I’m now more acutely aware that my stewardship includes preparing my family and the ministry I lead for the transition that will eventually happen. I’m seeking Gods wisdom and grace to pave the way for all of us to enter that next season ready to keep advancing God’s calling.

Three Changes

First, the stewardship of my own soul is foundational. I continue to deepen my relationship with Jesus Christ daily because I know that I can only bear lasting fruit in my relationships and responsibilities by abiding in his Word and his love (Jn 15:4-11). I trust God to grant me grace to shepherd my home and our ministry wholeheartedly while I have breath.

Second, I’m more intentionally adjusting my priorities to further cultivate a legacy for my family and to serve as a transitioning leader for our ministry. Although I hope this season is one of years, and not months, I cannot presume upon God, or assume what my capacity might be in the future. Love for my family and commitment to the flourishing of Christ’s cause means others must increase, while I must decrease in due time. This is leading in love.

Third, I’m collaborating with our Board to prepare our ministry, First Image, for the future transition and my successor.

A New Challenge

One challenge with succession planning is dealing with my motives. How do I avoid being self-serving as we lay out succession plans and timelines? How do I attend to my family’s needs without presuming upon the welfare of the ministry? I don’t want to be the last person to find out that I’ve overstayed my usefulness to the mission. The Board should not have to guess what my needs and aspirations are in this season. And I need to get over myself – This mission is certainly bigger than me!

This is where transparent, continuing communication and collaboration between the Board and myself is essential. Nurturing trust between the Board and myself and cultivating common commitment to our mission provides the necessary culture for healthy succession planning.

Developing succession plans for all our key leaders will now become part of our corporate practice. Our stewardship of our institutional knowledge and our key ministry relationships are essential assets we must pass on to our successors.

I know I’m only scratching the surface of succession planning. I’m thankful as I’m tapping into great resources available through other Christian leaders and consultants.

I embrace this priority to prepare First Image for life without me, even though my prognosis and my passion for our mission are currently strong and healthy.

On The Other Side

I am taking the stewardship of my relationships and responsibilities as seriously as a heart attack.

Thankfully, you don’t have to experience a near-death experience to be a good steward of your succession. If you haven’t started working on a succession plan, today is a good day to sow that seed. We just need to face our fears, die to our pride, exercise our love for those we lead, and practice discipline to project a healthy launch of the ministry for the next leader.

After all, we are stewards, not owners of our families and Christ’s mission.


Larry Gadbaugh has served as the CEO of First Image in Portland, Oregon, since 2001. Diane and he have been married for 42 years and have five adult children and three grandchildren.


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