Interview with Dave Stone: Change and Succession (Part 2)
This is Part 2 of a two-part transcript from an interview Doug and I were privileged to have with Senior Pastor, Dave Stone, of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY. In Part 1, we discussed growth, challenges and vision. Today we look at change and succession. With four campuses throughout the Louisville area averaging over 24,000 a weekend, Southeast is a large and influential church, recently listed in Outreach Magazine’s Top 100 as the 10th largest. Dave’s humility and down-to-earth nature belie the size and influence of his church. Enjoy his insights on change and succession in this second part of our interview.
DOUG: Dave, Southeast is 56 years old now. That means you’ve seen the church through a ton of changes including the weekend worship service. How have you led through changing the worship experience, while keeping the weekend fresh and catalytic?
DAVE: Change is tricky. Nothing can be more painful than change. You can pull off a bandage slowly or you can rip it off. Walk slowly into the ocean or jump in. How we lead through change can depend on a leader’s personality. For example, when a strong leader comes into a traditional church with a my way or the highway style, they quickly change everything, ripping bandages off. The long-timers get mad, people stop giving, they fight, complain and pout, and once the damage is done, they leave.
My approach is different. I tend to change things gradually. I would also include dress style along with worship style. From a traditional standpoint, I followed a leader for whom I have the utmost respect. And he wore a suit and tie every time he preached. So I started a year before not wearing a suit and tie, but a jacket. Then the next year, a dress shirt and dress slacks. Kyle Idleman, who teaches with me, always dressed a little more casually. As we made the transition, I told our church, “I dream of a day when you don’t really care what the person is wearing next to you, but rather you care more about the teaching and the scriptures shared.” I began wearing jeans in the pulpit a few years ago and now it’s no longer an issue.
The same applies to the worship experience. In a traditional setting, some will complain about decibels, repeated words and style. So we began having a few hymn nights. Finally, with over 600 senior adults in a room, I asked, “How many of you have a grandchild who is not in church or has walked away from the Lord?” Hands went up all over the room. I let that sink in and said, “We’re trying to reach our grandchildren and that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.” In an instant, the room changed.
Stats are clear that as people age, the odds of them coming to Christ are smaller. So we’re going after the grandkids. They are the future of the church. We have teenagers worshiping on stage and it gets everyone excited about the future. We want to be a church that is multi-generational. There is great value when we are all being mentored by others.
BART: Let’s talk succession. I believe in the next ten years, we will see a wave of churches that need a succession plan in place. You went through one of the most exemplary versions of succession. Based on your experience, would you share your thoughts on succession planning?
DAVE: A long-range plan worked well for us. In our case, Bob made the announcement seven years prior that I would become the lead pastor in 6-10 years. Do I think that a long-range plan is right for everyone? No, not necessarily. But I believe already being part of the staff was to everyone’s advantage.
Before the transition, Bob asked me, “What are the things that must happen to help you have a smooth succession?” One of those things was an elder rotation. Some of the elders had been in their roles for 20-25 years. I would’ve been totally handcuffed if I’d had the exact same leadership Bob had. It took a few years, but he supported me and continued to ask, “How can I help you through the process?” That is one of the many advantages of an incoming leader already being part of the church rather than coming in from the outside. The learning curve is greatly reduced, and problems can be addressed before the transition. But I would never say never, because I have seen it work in other churches. Either way, the incoming leader should have a clear understanding of the DNA of the church.
I think the key to a smooth succession is the humility of the outgoing pastor. The humility of the outgoing leader will make or break the transition. I’m planning to pass leadership on and praying that when I do, God will lead me in humility to another chapter in life. I want to be available to encourage but I don’t want to be in the way. I followed a humble leader who did transition the best I’ve ever seen, and he set me up for success. I’m very thankful.
Full interview here: