The Surprising Advice Max Lucado Gives to Young Pastors

March 9, 2015

Max Lucado has been one of the most popular evangelical leaders for many years. His books have sold in the millions and are a regular fixture on the bestseller’s list. I had the chance to interview Max for my weekly blog with Leadership Journal. As with all interviews, this one had to be trimmed for publication. Leadership Journal featured the questions I asked Max about his new book on prayer. But I also asked him about his hopes and concerns for the evangelical movement and the surprising advice he gives to young pastors.

What excites you about where the evangelical Church is today compared to where it was when you began your ministry?

Well, I think there are some wonderful branches of the church that are just making phenomenal progress that are growing all over the world, different movements within the church: healthy movements. I am very encouraged about that. I am really encouraged about our commitment to compassion. The groups like World Vision, like Compassion, like Feed the Children, like Samaritan’s Purse, these are very viable, wonderful ministries of the church today. They seem to be being very well received around the world and there are so many of those. So, I think that the number of church plant movements that are happening, as well as our compassion movements, these are reasons for us to be very encouraged.

What concerns you, if you have any?

Well, I’m not sure that we quite know how to behave in our society as the Church, definitely in this post-Christian era. I think the Church itself hasn’t quite learned how to interact with the government. We have for so many decades assumed that the government was going to re-enforce the values of the church. Now that we are seeing a change happening, literally daily, from one value to the next, we are not quite sure how to behave. I think we will pass through a time of confusion, but I am really thinking that at some point we are going to realize that the Bible was written for times like these.

The Bible was written for people who were living in places where Christians were the minority and sometimes maybe quite often the persecuted minority. So we are going to be able to see, oh, the Bible was written for people like me. When Paul was writing the letter to the Roman Church, he wasn’t speaking to a church that was accustomed to having prayer in schools or having their values re-enforced. So when he said to pray for the leaders, he was talking about praying for people who were antagonistic to your way of thinking, to your value system? So, I think we will come out stronger on this but I think we are going to have to learn some things about living in a culture that seems to be antagonistic toward our values.

It seems that this is a time really for the church to be distinct and kind of live out our status as sort of sojourners and exiles as Peter talks about.

Exactly. My only concern is when I see Christians begin to freak out and get angry and be antagonistic. We have this attitude that the devil is in Washington, that everything is going over the edge of the cliff, this total utter despair. I have trouble reconciling that with the belief in a sovereign God who is sitting on the throne, who oversees affairs of humanity, who places kings on thrones and removes kings from thrones. That is the God we serve. Well, let’s be people of peace and trust that, yes, we are in a different era and that’s okay. God’s not baffled so let’s just keep trusting him.

You’ve been in ministry for a while now, and what are the keys to sustaining ministry for the long haul?

Well, I think I have an answer that is really going to surprise you. But I think the day you begin your ministry, you should start thinking about a succession. I think our tendency is to build churches that depend upon our presence, and that’s not healthy. We all know churches, healthy churches, which have really struggled when the senior leader had to, for whatever reason, leave. I remember many years ago a man by the name of Lyle Schaller who wrote quite a few books on church growth many years ago. He came to see me one day and his first question was: “If you were to get hit by a bus, would your church survive?”

It was not a great way to start a conversation but I didn’t have a good answer to that question because I had absolutely no planning for somebody to take over if something were to happen to me. I think it’s good stewardship for us to begin considering succession the day we begin the ministry; to begin working ourselves out of a job. That forces us into a posture of discipling others, thinking long term, and it also helps the church to transition, because the truth of the matter is, things could happen to the senior leader. God might call me to leave somewhere and go somewhere else or a bus could hit me, so I think that the thing that is too seldom discussed among church leaders is a succession plan.

It takes a bit of humility to say, hey, I guess I’m not the answer to everybody’s needs.

Exactly, and what I found out is that I kind of liked the church depending on me. I kind of take pride in that. It’s not very healthy, is it? So what we’ve done at the church in San Antonio is we’ve put in place Randy Frazee, who has been with us now for seven years, and he is now the senior minister, and that means that all of his staff and all of the budget issues land on his desk and not mine. We split the preaching 50/50.

Since he is younger than I am by almost a decade, and so I feel like the church is in good hands. As I get older, if and when I have to leave or the Lord calls me home, we have a strong succession plan already in place and I feel very good about that. It brings me great peace. At times it is difficult, you know, giving up responsibility. And I’ve got to say there were other times, it was a joy to give up those responsibilities.

Why is it that it just seems very few of those transitions go well in large churches and Christian organizations? Why is there so much ugliness with passing the baton?

It does. I think that, here’s my hunch. I think the same personality that can build a large healthy organization has trouble relinquishing that organization. Does that make sense?

Yes.

The very traits that cause you to be able to attract a large number of people and build a sophisticated or strong organization, it is a high sense of loyalty to that organization so there is a feeling like I’m betraying my organization if I turn it over to someone else. This is just a hunch that I have and may not be right, but I do see many, many strong leaders neglect to prepare for the next generation in their organization and their church suffers as a result.

You can read the rest of my interview with Max here: