Succession: Preparing the Way for a Flourishing Future

May 6, 2024

by Peter Bunton, Kairos Affiliate Professor and Faculty Mentor


Kairos University’s mission is to “steward followers of Jesus who flourish in their vocations for the sake of the world.” We wish people to do well, even to lead in business, professions, and ministry. But what about the future? Does a ministry or business only flourish now, or can we help it be successful over time? Indeed, any venture, if it is not to be a one-generation phenomenon, must face the future with boldness, and get to grips with succession. How can today’s founders or leaders be replaced in a way that the organization or ministry continues to be purposeful and flourish in the future?

As I began to study the topic of succession, I realized that Christians are inspired by the great pioneers of faith such as John Wesley or Hudson Taylor. In his book 60 Great Founders (1995), Hanks features pioneering leaders within evangelicalism. I began to find, however, that there is relatively little written on what, or who, comes after the founders. There also appeared to be a dearth of reflection on the theologies and practices of Christian organizations and movements in considering and enacting succession. This led to field research, culminating in the 2023 publication of my book Succeeding at Succession: Founder and Leadership Succession in Christian Organizations and Movements (Wipf & Stock).

Through this study, I realized some of the apprehension Christians have on this topic. Yes, it can seem complicated, involving such matters as gender considerations, organizational change, leadership style change, spiritual gifts, and exploring more deeply an organization’s theology of leadership. Indeed, I would even say that there were common fears among Christian groups considering succession. These often included a concern for a loss of the distinctive vision and values of the business or ministry; a fear of what the German sociologist Max Weber called “the routinization of charisma,” where an organization moves from a charismatic vision to a more structured venture with an increasing number of written policies and rules; and concerns of how to help existing leaders relinquish their position, something commonly called “founders’ syndrome.” In my book, I try not to shy away from commenting on matters that can impair succession, such as equivocal power transference, the relationship between exiting leader and successor, organizational identity threat, and lack of a clear theology of leadership. Yet, it became evident that positive successions could take place which enabled the organization or movement to continue and indeed to increase or multiply in the next generation. Personally, I have just lived through this as the network of churches in which I serve, DOVE International (, representing some 1,200 churches in 25 nations, in April 2024 experienced the founding leader step down from responsibility and appointed a new international director some thirty years younger than the founder. Yes, it took planning, discussion, prayer, identifying the qualities needed for a new generation of leadership, training, and preparation. Of course, time will tell, but there seems to be every opportunity that this church-planting movement will continue to flourish under the next generation’s leadership.

As we go about our lives, jobs, and ministry, yes, we should seek to flourish personally and in the roles that God has given us now, but each of us as individuals can also do all we can to ensure that others flourish in the future. Appropriate preparation for succession in whatever we are doing is a link between contemporary and future flourishing.

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