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‘Leadership succession in church should be spiritually guided’

By Chris Irekamba
14 November 2021   |   1:58 am
Ideally, the issue of succession into leadership position in the church should not generate any controversy, as it is generally assumed that being religious in nature, the church would naturally seek spiritual guidance...

Ideally, the issue of succession into leadership position in the church should not generate any controversy, as it is generally assumed that being religious in nature, the church would naturally seek spiritual guidance in such matters. The reverse has been the case, however, as the question of who succeeds the founder or general overseer of many churches has always degenerated into controversy similar to what is obtained in the secular world. Oftentimes, the concerned parties go as far as dragging themselves to the law court, thereby getting enmeshed in endless litigations that result in denting the church’s image, not to mention its finances. But how can this be tackled, so that the church does not degenerate further? What should be the standard procedure for electing a successor in the church? CHRIS IREKAMBA reports.

‘Problem Of Succession Occurs When Human Frailty Creeps In’
(Bishop Stephen Adegbite, Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Lagos State Chapter)
The standard process of succession is very simple; things are subjected to the Spirit of God by prayer. I mean, real prayer and fasting. It is God that selects whoever will take over, and once you allow Him to have His way, there will be no problem. But problem comes in, when people try to bring in human frailty. No doubt, every church or organisation has its own system of who succeeds the leader. Whether the leader or general overseer selects son or wife to succeed him will now depend on the set-up. If it has been established ab initio that his wife, or son or daughter would succeed him, the church must abide by that. This is because he is the one that God called, and when that happened no one was there. When God called him and where he started from is not what is being seen today. Definitely, you cannot reap where you have not sown. So, if you know you are not satisfied with the set-up, you can leave the place and allow peace to reign, instead of creating problems. It would be unfair for anyone to just come suddenly and want to take charge of the church, after the demise of the founder or general overseer. No! So, if the process is that the son or wife should succeed him, and it is already documented, then nobody should fault that. So, that should be the standard.

‘Apostolic Succession Is Generational Bible-based Standard’
(The Most Rev. Dr. Isaac Chijioke Nwaobia, Archbishop, Aba Province/Bishop, Diocese of Isialangwa South)
‘AS it is often said that success without a successor amounts to failure,’ in every organisation, the church inclusive, understanding the standard process of succession plans occupies the thoughts and duties of every godly leadership. The Church has its roots from Jesus Christ, the One and only foundation on which the early Apostles passed on the Christian church’s biblical faith. Apostolic succession, therefore, is taken as generational Bible-based standard and practice. The Apostolic succession is the method whereby the ministry of the Christian Church is derived from the Apostles by a continuous succession, which has usually been associated with claims that the succession is through a series of Bishops, originating from the earliest Apostles originally appointed by Jesus Christ Himself.

The Christian Church and the need to follow the standard succession plans as hereby underlisted include: being proactive with plans. All Christian church leaders must always bear in mind that they occupy the leadership seat for a time that could be determined by man or be terminated by God’s infinite wisdom and powers. So, the need to think and project ahead must be an essential planning process. Two, the church should pinpoint likely succession candidates. The Christian Church must seek to identify likely succession candidates that meet the criteria, in character and learning, amongst certain faithful and loyal followers. Three, there should be development of guiding principles/rules, called a Constitution. Four, they should do a trial run of their succession plans. All potential succession candidates must be tried and proven to be reliable. They should step up professional development efforts, such as developing fundamental Bible-based and minimum training requirements in a related leadership field in the church, as well as integrating a succession plan into hiring strategy/process. In all matters of faith and practice, the Bible remains a generational standard for doctrines, faith and governance in the Christian Church. Therefore, the standard succession plan in the church leadership must have its foundation and formula in the Apostolic succession tradition and practice, that is explicitly seen in the Scriptures.

‘Successor Must Be A Servant, Regardless Of Whether He/She Is Related Biologically’
(Archbishop Joseph I. Ojo, Presiding Bishop, Calvary Kingdom Church Int’l, Lagos)
CLOSENESS to the prophet is key. Succession goes beyond men’s thoughts. In principle, a true successor must have received the spirit of the set man and must be a servant, regardless of whether he/she is related biologically to the set man’ 2 Kings 2:14-15 “And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the LORD God of Elijah? And when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over. And when the sons of the prophets, which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.”

To be able to do justice to the question of “what should be the standard process for succession in a church or ministry?” I think the scripture above will help in some way in proffering an answer to it. It is not known if Elijah had sons or daughters or wife that would have succeeded him. If he had, I am sure the standard we see in this passage above would have still been the consideration for his successor. In the case of an independent church or ministry, the person that has the spirit of the set man should be considered as the standard. I am referring to Independent Ministries and Churches. In other words, not a ministry started by missionaries; by the churches that sent the missionaries and funded them from their churches from other countries/locations. Those churches have their laid down rules and standards about succession, and we have seen them do it over and over again for many years in this country. Examples are the Foursquare Church and the Assemblies of God Church. So, for independent churches, a major part of the standard is to consider someone that carries and demonstrates the spirit of the person that is being succeeded amongst other qualities. Such a person has better chances of succeeding in line with the mandate of such a ministry. It can be the son, daughter, wife or any of those that have served him closely. They saw the spirit of Elijah upon Elisha and they bowed to him. This means that they recognised him as the successor of Elijah. Any person in the ministry that carries the spirit of the leader is qualified to succeed him. Also, different ministries have their established rules as to who should be the successor of a leader, when he is not in active service or when he is no more. Churches and ministries should be allowed to run their succession plan as it best suits them. 

‘Children/Family Members Should Not Become Successors’
(Rev. Yomi Kasali, Senior Pastor, Foundation of Truth Assembly, Surulere, Lagos)
MINISTRY is defined as Christian service for the Lord. The subject of succession in running churches and faith-based ministries has always generated some friction in the past, because there was no clear model mentioned in the scriptures. Churches are both organisations (corporate entity) and organism (life-giving entity). To understand the dichotomy will help in the discourse on succession. The battle has been in and around the organisation because that’s where the temporary power lies, while the organism carries the spiritual power.  I believe God calls men and anoints them for His work on earth. Those men thereafter build great and enviable organisations (corporate entities) with God’s grace on their lives through manifestations of the supernatural gifts (organism). When those men depart mother earth for their heavenly homes, the struggle for power ensues and those closest to those men pull the organisation in different directions.  Churches are not totally different from ‘business’ enterprises by default, though some people run their churches (organisations) like businesses. In fact, they use the nomenclatures associated with businesses to express their intent. The assets of religious organisations should not be treated as personal assets, which is also why the struggle sometimes gets messier. 

Church organisations should be separated from the organism. Two, there should be competent hands to run the organisations, and their powers should be limited to the church’s administration. Three, the founding and pioneering pastors should focus on the organism and continue to provide spiritual support for the people or members who are attracted to the church for the same reason in the first place. Four, the most ‘anointed’ persons should take over the church’s leadership after the demise of the founder and pioneering pastor, and not the head of the organisation. Five, the organisation should not be ahead of the organism under any circumstances in the hierarchy of things, even if those heading the organism are not very literate and educated. After all, some of the early apostles weren’t very educated. Six, there should be a body of religious people formed to manage the organism, just as much as a body of people also appointed to manage the organisation. And seven, the body of people formed to manage the organism should appoint their leader internally, who shall be the head of the religious body after the death of the founder and pioneering pastor. I strongly believe children or family members should not become the successor, except they are actively involved in the organism (life-giving entity) or what we call Pulpit Ministry of the Word and Prayers.  

‘We Adhere To God’s Counsel On Succession Plan’
(Pastor (Dr.) Jacob E. Umoru, President, Lagos Atlantic Conference of Seventh-day Adventist church)
FAR too many organisations fall short of the strategic task of succession planning. The absence of satisfactory solutions in this area stifles the ability of an organisation to achieve its mission and vision. Lack of planning in this area also contributes to a negative impact on overall morale, staff performance, and effectiveness as these turnovers ensue. Leadership development and succession is as old as humanity, and the Bible provides a rich source of guidance in addressing leadership development and succession. God gave specific instructions to the Israelites regarding the training and preparation of the emerging generation of leaders (Deut. 6:6–9; 20–25). At the same time, no one was promised positional appointments. The Spirit of God guides that process and leaders were selected and developed, and then in turn, they develop others. This process was also critical to the early church and is vital to church sustainability today.

In the Old Testament, the system of government was theocratic, that is, God was the Leader and He chose people who were leaders for life, just as in the case of Moses or King David. In Matthew 28:18–20, Jesus entrusted the leadership succession of His church to His 11 disciples. He selected each of these persons, taught them, modelled leadership to them, gave them leadership experiences. At Seventh Day Adventists, we adhere to the counsels of the scripture on leadership development and succession planning. The church is centred on Christ, Who is the Head of the church and therefore, leaders are chosen based on His direction and example.

‘Succession Depends On Church Organogram, But Sometimes Human Flesh Sets In’
(Archbishop John Osa-Oni, National Vice President, Southwest Zone of PFN)
I THINK it depends on the church organogram and whatever it dictates, as a condition for succession is what the people should follow and abide by. For instance, in the Bible days, the disciples prayed in Acts 5 and 6. They prayed to seek the face of the Lord, and in Acts 13, they fasted and prayed. And the Lord said: “separate me Paul and Barnabas…” the Holy Spirit had to be involved, but when human flesh sets in, that is where we have crises in leadership and church succession. But, as long as we submit to the Will of the Holy Spirit, certainly, the Holy Spirit will direct the people on what to do. Again, the church’s Constitution should clearly define who succeeds the leader, when he is not there, either by death or whatever. What happens in most cases is that after people have tasted and enjoyed the paraphernalia of office, it becomes an issue for them to give way, when their tenure expires. It shouldn’t be like that.

It is unfortunate that some have gone to court on account of this. I like what happened in a particular case: they went to court and the court in its wisdom asked the warring parties to go and settle the matter among themselves. That is good. We are supposed to be fathers, when it comes to the things of God, but unfortunately, it is not always like that.