An Interview with Tom Mullins
After more than 20 years as pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in South Florida, the church he founded and grew to a multisite church of more than 40,000 people meeting on seven campuses around South Florida and online around the world, Tom Mullins passed the baton of leadership to his son Todd. As Tom was transitioning out of this role, he was also stepping into a new one, as president of EQUIP Leadership, a nonprofit organization specializing in training and mobilizing effective Christian leaders. Outcomes spoke with Mullins about his new book, Passing the Leadership Baton (Thomas Nelson, 2015).
What led you to write Passing the Leadership Baton?
I was getting so many requests from people asking about our process, because we had such a smooth transition at Christ Fellowship. When we passed the leadership baton here, the church grew exponentially. It has been phenomenal. According to Leadership Network, close to 60,000 ministry transitions will happen over the next few years. You only get one chance to pass the baton well, and you don’t want to drop that.
What do you hope that readers take away from your book?
The first thing I hope they take away is the critical importance of preparation: having a transition plan, actually sitting down and working through this with your boards and with your leadership teams. This is what creates health for your church or for your ministry or for your organization.
There are a lot of practical steps for how to prepare yourself, how to prepare your successor, how to prepare your organization, and then we have a whole chapter on crisis-driven transitions. There are some minefields you’ve got to navigate in times of crisis to re-establish trust in the organization with new leadership.
How can leaders personally prepare to transition out of leadership?
Always keep the bigger view in mind: the purpose of the ministry or organization you’re leading. I really do believe that we need to treat every role that we’re in as an interim role. We’re just one runner in a relay race. We’ve got to pass that baton successfully to complete the race. This kind of mindset means we often have to deal with ownership and identity issues — “this is my baby, I built this thing” — and we often find that so much of our identity is wrapped up in our current roles and titles that it’s hard for us to make transitions. But I’ve got to do not what’s best for me but what’s best for the organization or ministry I’m leading. Once you can get there, then you begin to start realizing: I’ve got to raise up successors, I’ve got to prepare them, I’ve got to let them run alongside me, and I’ve got to understand the right timing for transition.
Most leaders stay way too long in their roles. They don’t pass the baton early enough, when things are fresh. If they wait until the momentum is gone, and they’re on the downhill side of ministry, then it makes it almost impossible for the successor to succeed. The leader should go out right at his zenith, because then as he steps, he’s not stepping away from something, he’s now in a position to step into something. There really is life beyond transition. In the end we’re going to realize that the way we transition will be the greatest test of our leadership. Then it will also be our legacy, if we do it well.
The post was an excerpt from the 2015 Summer edition of Outcomes Magazine.
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