Transition Plan - Southeast Christian Church

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By Bob Russell & Bryan Bucher ... Ministers Label is a micropublisher that produces only one book per year for ... This book is a microcosm of who Bob is and.



TRANSITION PLAN By Bob Russell & Bryan Bucher Published by Ministers Label P.O. Box 436943 Louisville, KY 40253 812.707.1395 [email protected]m

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any form without written permission of the publisher, except for brief excerpts for review purposes. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. Printed in the United States of America First Edition 2010. ISBN 978-0-9827204-93

Produced by Nevan Hooker Edited by Amy Whikehart, Debbie Carper, John Purlee and Sue Ann Hooker Design: Jerry Farmer Author Photo: Jason Spencer Special Thanks: Rick Warren, Dave Stone, Max Lucado, Michelle Gruber, John Maxwell, Kyle Idleman, John Wooden, Jack Hillerich, Craig Groeschel, Ken Davis, Liz Curtis Higgs, David Novak, William Vanderbloemen, Henry Zonio, Mark Sweeney, Gene Wigginton, Steve North, Don Waddell, Debbie Carper, Courtney Walling, Ross Broduehrer, Ruth Schenk, Ryan Frank, Terry Gibson, Don Jeanes, Chris Nelson, Rob Hooker, Dan Small, Steven Greseth, Phil Holland, and Chip Ingram. “Only one book per year…that’s it.” Ministers Label is a micropublisher that produces only one book per year for leaders. Find out what’s next by visiting

My vision is that every church and ministry organization in the world would have a transition plan. Join me in my efforts. Tell people you know in leadership positions about the wisdom found in this book.

Nevan Hooker President, Ministers Label Publishing

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CONTENTS Foreword by Dave Stone


Chapter 1

My Story


Chapter 2

Why Transitions?


Chapter 3 Lessons From Experience, Observation, and Research


Chapter 4

Saying Goodbye


Chapter 5

Life After Retirement


Chapter 6

Bonus Material


Foreword By Dave Stone


very organization goes through changes and transitions. It’s necessary for survival. Resisting change is a death toll. The leader of an organization must learn from the past, adapt to the present, and plan for the future. That’s true whether it’s a large or small church…whether it’s a family business or a publicly traded company. When I consider reading a book, I ask myself two questions: First, does the topic have some current bearing on my life situation? Secondly, does the writer have the authority or wisdom to speak truth on the topic? On those two counts, if you are a leader then you will enjoy and learn from Transition Plan. This book chronicles a well-planned and orchestrated transition of leadership in a unique situation. I don’t know of a leader who has successfully planned and pulled off a high profile transition with as much grace and class as Bob Russell. 7

I was anxious to read the manuscript partly because I am the guy who Bob chose to succeed him as the Senior Minister at Southeast Christian Church. But my desire to immerse myself in its content went far beyond simple curiosity. This book is a microcosm of who Bob is and how he leads. Like Bob, the book is practical, relevant, honest and humorous. If you are a leader then you’ll both enjoy and benefit from this book. The influence of Bob Russell is sprinkled throughout my ministry. Every week I’m faced with some challenge or issue and in my mind I’ll think, “What would Bob do in this situation?” Now I’m not advocating that Christian bookstores begin selling WWBD wristbands. Bob wouldn’t like that at all. In fact, that’s what makes him so easy to follow. He has never thought of himself as being “all that.” He would see himself as an ordinary leader who serves an extraordinary God. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed working alongside him for 17 years. I saw and continue to see Christ in Bob Russell. Bob’s passion for preaching, his life of integrity, his commitment to God’s Word and his consistent humility is the foundation from which this book emerged. As more time has passed since the process of our transition, it’s impossible for me to begin to understand what it must have been like for Bob to give me his blessing to lead the church. I have likened it to a parent


handing the car keys over to their excited sixteen-yearold son (except for the fact that, in this case, Bob hadn’t just bought the car; he pretty much built the car.) Where some senior leaders thrive on intimidation or fear, Bob specializes in encouragement and trust. Some outgoing leaders derive joy in watching their successor struggle or take pride in seeing the attendance diminish, but not Bob. His goal was to set me up as best he could. On more than one occasion he said to me, “What can I do or say to the congregation that will help you in your future leadership?” If you’re trying to build an audience then you don’t ask such a question, but you do if you are trying to build a church and advance the kingdom. That’s why I want you to read this book. If you are looking for a book that chronicles the masterful, mistake-free way that a leadership transition took place in one of America’s largest churches—then you’ll be disappointed. But if you are looking for the honest story of gut-wrenching choices and practical principles that will aid you in your transitions of leadership, then grab a seat and get comfortable. In order to write a book on transitional leadership you have to have made it to the other side. There needs to be some years that go by to prove the success and health of that transition. That has happened! Bob Russell graciously stepped aside in 2006 and what


Southeast Christian Church is today is a testimony to the blessing of God and a foundation that Bob laid for decades before. Whenever I’m asked about “the passing of the baton” at Southeast, I’m always quick to say that the main ingredient in a transition is the humility of the outgoing senior leader. The fact that our hand-off went well is a testimony to Bob’s being a humble servant. Unselfishly he chose to transition at a time when he still had more years of effective leadership. Unlike many leaders, throughout Bob’s leadership he pointed people to Jesus instead of himself. When that occurs, transitions advance the Kingdom because the focus is on Christ and not the leaders. Jesus said, “But I, when I am lifted up…will draw all men to myself. (John 12:32, NIV). I remember when Bob preached his final sermon as the Senior Minister of Southeast. It was a powerful and emotional service. He concluded it by having me come up to the platform and handed me a baton to symbolize that I was the new leader. You have to realize he’d led Southeast for the past 40 years. Wow! The tears flowed freely that morning for every Southeast member. When I left church that Sunday, Bob’s car was still in his parking spot and my car was beside his. But something came over me and I just couldn’t resist…I jotted a note and placed it on his windshield. It read: “To whom


it may concern, please move your vehicle as this is a reserved spot! Signed: the current holder of the Baton.” And I think he got a kick out of it (at least that’s what his attorney told me)! The next week, I stepped into Bob’s empty office that was about to become my own. There was absolutely nothing in there. Bookshelves that had been stuffed full with four decades worth of reading material sat totally barren and quiet. As my wife, Beth, and I were moving my books into the shelves, Beth picked something up from under the telephone. It was a note from Bob. “Dave, Thanks for all you’ve done for me and for your support all these years. My prayer as I leave today is that this office will be a place where your walk with God is continually deepened, many great sermons will be written, and your wonderful sense of humor will be often expressed. I’m so thankful that you are the one moving in. God Bless! Bob” After we read it, I glanced over and Beth had tears rolling down her face. And then she looked at me and


quickly asked, “What did you put on his car windshield?!” I said, “I don’t want to talk about it...just help me start moving my coloring books over to this office!” That story typifies how gracious, encouraging, and selfless Bob Russell has been through what at times can be a tricky and challenging process. His words tucked under the telephone were indicative of how he took me under his wing for 17 years and still continues to encourage me. But that’s not why I want you to read this book. Transition Plan shouldn’t be on your reading list because of some note left on a desk—not at all. Don’t read it because of the letter Bob left, read it because of the legacy he left...a legacy of unity, humility and integrity.


chapter one

My Story


n the summer of 1999, Southeast Christian Church was on a roll. We had just moved into a 70-million dollar facility, which included a 9,000-seat sanctuary. The average worship attendance jumped from 10,000 to over 13,000 the first year we occupied the new building. We were adding staff at an unprecedented rate as we scrambled to assimilate over a thousand brand new believers into the church family. As we approached the new millennium, I felt vibrant and excited about the future. I was 56 years old at the time and had been the Senior Minister of Southeast since I was 22. But strange as it may seem, it was during that very summer of ’99 that the church Elders and I began to seriously think about a transition plan.

Motivations for Transition The topic had come up several times in a strategic planning questionnaire that members had returned the previous year. Several of the responses had asked 15

transition plan

about a succession plan for the Senior Minister. Church members explained that people in the community were frequently asking them, “What’s going to happen to your church when Bob Russell retires or dies?” People wanted to give an answer to that question. And they wanted the security of knowing that their church could continue to be a blessing to their children and grandchildren in the years to come. A second motivation for considering a transition plan surfaced in the fundraising for our new facility. The Bank Of Louisville agreed to loan us 26-million dollars to construct our new facility only if we consented to purchasing a life insurance policy on the Senior Minister equal to half the amount of the money loaned. While this is a common practice in the business world, it challenged the leaders of the church to think seriously about our position that Jesus Christ is the head of the church, not the preacher. Naturally the bank wasn’t impressed with that concept, so the insurance was purchased to meet their contingency requirements. Afterward, it sobered me to realize that I became worth more dead than alive! If I died, would an associate announce to the congregation, “Well, today we have some bad news AND good news!”?!?! I joked with our Elders that I was afraid to walk across the street when they may be driving by, for fear that one of them would decide that it was time to make a hit for Jesus and mow me down! 16