CNLP 019: How to Replace Yourself: Why Every Leader (Even Young Leaders) Need a Succession Plan to be Successful—An Interview with William Vanderbloemen

Why on earth would you think about succession, especially if you’re a young leader?

Well, one of the hallmarks of great leadership is replacing yourself. Second, there is no success without a succession plan for any leadership role.

William Vandenbloemen explains why finding your replacement is an essential part of great leadership at all ages in all positions, and explains how to do it.

Whether you’re leading a small business, a large corporation, a church or a non-profit, replacing yourself and finding a successor are keys to any leader’s success.

Welcome to Episode 19 of the Podcast.


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Links Mentioned in this Episode

The Orange Conference 2015

Russell Reynolds Firm

Episode 8 with Rich Birch

Bill Hybels

Rick Warren

Brad Lomenick

John Maxwell

Transition Plan by Bob Russell

2014 Large Church Compensation Report 

Catalyst Conference

3 Things You Can Do Right Away

Discussing succession within church leadership doesn’t have to be a negative experience.

There are many stories in the Bible that are catered around succession – Even Jesus spent his last days with those he wanted to spread the Gospel.

Here are three things you can do to be prepared:

1. Start the conversation. From day one, leadership in the church needs to start thinking about what succession looks like in all areas of ministry. According to research conducted by William’s firm, U.S. and Canadian pastors, on average, go through 3 or 4 pastoral transitions throughout their careers. In fact, William points out that every pastor is technically an interim pastor, no matter what position they hold.

Keep this in mind – Having a successor in place doesn’t make you less valuable; it makes you more valuable to the church.  If you’re concerned that succession planning could cause conflict among church leadership, or if your pastor isn’t willing to have the conversation, look for an outside source that may have greater leverage to get the process started.


2. Develop a plan for picking a successor. There is an age curve in the work force that’s described as the “double humped camel.” The large hump represents the Baby Boomers, many of whom are retiring. The people in the middle represent the Gen-Y’ers, and the second hump is representative of Millennials. This generation gap has created a scarcity of people for upcoming opportunities, something William compares to finding a match for an organ transplant. It’s like hiring an outsider to come inside the body to run a major organ system, and the trick is finding a “donor list” (candidates) of good tissue matches.

Have a plan for what this process looks like within your church, because William emphasizes that it’s really easy to find the wrong person.

3. Don’t overstay because you’re afraid to tackle the issue. While there are exceptions, pastors tend to stay too long in their position. That trend is most common among senior leadership. Not only will pride sometimes hinder a pastor’s succession, but board members don’t want to go into “ministry battle.”

The reasons for overstaying are myriad. Many times, the senior pastor has married or baptized the family of his fellow board members, and to avoid conflict, succession is never discussed.  Senior pastors also struggle with losing their identity and losing their income. They can’t afford to retire, and they have no other way to identify themselves. William says that the smartest young professionals are those who spend their younger years creating options for their later years. Smart pastors will start to develop an avocation, and smart church boards will free up the pastor to pursue that.

It all begins with starting the conversation.

Quotes from William

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Next Episode: Frank Bealer

Feel like nobody owns the mission like you do? Frank Bealer from Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina shares how they have motivated thousands of volunteers to own the mission as much as staff do to help grow the church to over 18,000 people in 8 years.

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CNLP 019: How to Replace Yourself: Why Every Leader (Even Young Leaders) Need a Succession Plan to be Successful—An Interview with William Vanderbloemen


  1. […] CNLP 019: How to Replace Yourself. Why Every Leader (Even Young Leaders) Need a Succesion Plan to b… […]

  2. Matt Norman on November 9, 2015 at 6:24 am

    Great episode, but as a senior pastor how do you build up a young man who has a call on his life, but it’s not quite time yet. How do you look at him and tell him that he is the next guy, but we can’t pay you and I don’t know when I’m going to leave? Is that fair to the young man with God’s call on his life?

  3. jonperrin on January 26, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Exceptional podcast! We planted a church in Freiburg, Germany a few years ago. Because we started training some young leaders to be campus pastors (even before we launched) our church didn’t crash when we had to return to the US for 8 months to help our extended family. As long-term missionaries we had learned to always think about a succession plan. Even though in our minds succession wasn’t something imminent, we are thankful we trained our staff as if it was.

    I can’t overstate the vital importance of starting NOW to find and train your successor(s). You don’t want to wait until your boat starts taking on water to learn to swim.

    Love the podcasts & the blog. Keep up the good work Carey!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 26, 2015 at 6:44 pm

      Jon…so great to hear from you. Bingo…that’s such a great point. Missionaries would understand the importance of transition so well. That’s a great insight. So glad you shared it!

  4. Nash on January 23, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    Really great podcast and post! So the question is, how early is too early? I’m still inside 100 days of my new position lol. Also have you ever done a blog or podcast on how to initiate change without putting your superiors on the defensive? maybe I missed it.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 23, 2015 at 12:16 pm

      Thanks Nash. Congrats on your new role! Love your questions. I did actually write a blog on that. Here you go:

      • Nash on January 23, 2015 at 12:21 pm

        Awesome! Thanks. And I am truly blessed to be in the position I am in and am even more blessed that I have so many people to gain wisdom and knowledge from. I have so many who pour into my life day to day, but your blogs and podcasts have helped a great deal as well!

  5. Chris Shumate on January 21, 2015 at 10:22 am

    I enjoyed hearing from William on this topic. Although I’m not in a full-time or even part-time paid staff position in a church it is something I’ve considered for a while.

    The camel analogy was great, it is certainly that way with the generational gap. Another consideration to this generational gap in numbers is the gap in values and how to achieve the mission of the church. Would you agree? I am specifically thinking back to the podcast with Rich Birch and the conversation around millennials. You’ve also posted quite a bit about the differences in your other blog posts.

    A favorite quote I got you mentioned briefly above, “Wouldn’t the whole Church (big C) be healthier if we all realized that we are all here for a temporary stay and it’d be better if we plan for the future?”

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 21, 2015 at 1:00 pm

      Chris…thanks for this comment. I agree…there’s a gap in leadership that makes this subject even more critical. Love the way you think Chris!

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