Review of ‘Passing the Leadership Baton’ by Tom Mullins

 Passing-the-Leadership-BatonTom Mullins, Passing the Leadership Baton: A winning transition plan for your ministry (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015). Hardcover | Kindle

The American men’s relay team is an Olympics powerhouse. Since 1920, it has won gold medals at 15 of 21 Olympics. It did not do so in the 4×100 relay at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, however. Rather, it disqualified when Darvis Patton and Tyson Gay dropped the baton as they headed into the fourth leg of the race.

When it comes to transitions between pastors and their successors, a lot of churches drop the baton. The reasons for this are various: lack of planning, poor choice of successor, the inability of a predecessor to let go of the ministry, unforeseen crises, etc. Whatever the reasons, Tom Mullins thinks churches can a better job of passing the leadership baton. In this book, he coaches pastors how to lead their churches through their own transitions.

Mullins’ advice can be summarized in eight action steps:

  • Lead through transition.
  • Keep the right perspective.
  • Prepare for the win.
  • Select and prepare your successor.
  • Position yourself for success.
  • Position others for success.
  • Lead through crisis-driven transitions.
  • Create a legacy.

Mullins devotes a chapter to each action item. His advice is practical, experience-derived, and simply and winsomely written. Throughout the book, he reflects on how he transitioned leadership of Christ Fellowship, a multisite church in Florida, to his son Todd. He also cites the experiences—both positive and negative—of other churches and Christian ministries.

Near the end of the book, he captures the proper spirit in which church leadership transitions should take place: “Transition really comes down to being an issue of humility and surrender, if you think about it. All the practical things we’ve discussed in this book have hopefully been helpful to you as you plan with intentionality and troubleshoot inevitable issues along the way to your own transition in leadership. But the most important thing to consider is the fact God’s work is for God’s sake—not your own… When that is your realization, it forces you to a place of humility and surrender in the transition process because He alone is the priority, and His plans for His church are what matters above anything else.”

I highly recommend this book to pastors and their boards. It will be of immediate help to older ministers who are preparing to transition into retirement or other ministries in a few years. But younger ministers can benefit from reading it too. “Transition is not the only greatest test of your leadership,” Mullins writes; “it is your legacy. Transition well.”


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6 thoughts on “Review of ‘Passing the Leadership Baton’ by Tom Mullins

  1. With all due respect, the premise of this book (Surmised from the review, I have not read the book.) does not fit in with Assemblies of God polity.

    Assemblies of God polity (for General Council affiliated churches) is for pastors to develop Boards that will have the spiritual maturity to lead the church and work with the district leadership to guide the congregation through the process of selecting a new pastor. The pastor, once his tenure as pastor is over, should to walk away and not attempt to influence the selection process of a new pastor. The true measure of how well the pastor led the church is what happens after he leaves.

    The procedure described in this book describes a personality led church. It appears that the author was successful in transitioning the church he pastored to his son being the pastor. I am glad it worked for them. However, other churches that have been personality led have not been quite as successful in making the pastorate a family business e.g. the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, California.

    1. AG polity does not prohibit this kind of transition. He mentions Crystal Cathedral as an example of a failed transition. And this kind of transition is less personality driven than most pastoral searches because the successor has often risen through the ranks of leadership at the church.

      1. Perhaps I should have been more clear in that what I was referring to was A/G polity in the SoCal Network (Southern California District Council), where I live. I assumed that the SoCal polity was based on General Council polity. This situation does not appear to be addressed in the General Council Bylaws. SoCal Network polity is spelled out in the SoCal Network Bylaws (Article XV, Section 11. (Note Subsection B, (3). The outgoing pastor can be involved but it is an exception to how it is usually done and permission from the Network leadership must be obtained.

      2. How long has that policy been on the books, Jim? If memory serves, my dad used his influence to bring Jim Bradford NMCC when he resigned and took district office. I also wonder whether excluding the senior pastor, especially a founding senior pastor or long term Pastor, might contribute to a more difficult transition into a less difficult one.

  2. George, your points are well taken regarding a founding pastor or a long term pastor. Transition is often difficult in those situations and input from the current pastor might help.

    My Uncle Neale (Sheneman) who pioneered Muldoon Community Assembly in Anchorage, Alaska decided that his youth pastor, Kent Redfearn should follow him as pastor when he (Uncle Neale) had to retire due to health reasons. He worked to see Kent elected as pastor, in spite of reluctance on the part of some of the membership and the Church Board, Kent was elected pastor and has served since 1985 in that position and it is remarkable what has been accomplished under his leadership.

    I guess my concern about pastors attempting to influence the pastoral selection of their successor is that I am leery of people making decisions for which they do not have to live with the consequences. I think that often people might try to influence who their successor will be from an egotistical or controlling sense of what they think the future should be for the church when God, who is leading them away, wants to bring change.

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