The Elephant in the Boardroom: Speaking the Unspoken About Pastoral Transitions

By Carolyn Weese and J. Russell Crabtree
San Francisco : Josey Bass, A Wiley Imprint (2004). xviii + 220 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
17.1 (Spring 2006) : 133-135

In an era where the average tenure for a Protestant pastor is somewhere between two and three years, congregations and their leaders obviously need to have resources for making good pastoral transitions, mainly in hope that fewer of them would occur. The subtitle for this book is “How to Think About and Create a Strategic Succession Plan for Your Church.” The authors apparently bring a significant amount of experience and expertise to the task. Both are executive directors of their respective ministry consulting firms: Weese heads “Multi-Staff Ministries,” and Crabtree, “Holy Cow! Consulting.” Also, Weese lists an administrative position in a large Presbyterian church in her background, and Crabtree indicates that he served as a pastor in “small, medium and large churches” (209) without giving specific information.

The work is part of the Leadership Network Publication series from The Leadership Network of Dallas, Texas. The series has centered on works from emerging church authors such as Brian McLaren, James H. Furr, Reggie McNeal, Milfred Minatrea, and others and has become a key series of works from that movement. In a revealing statement, the book states,

The Leadership Network’s focus has been on the practice and application of faith at the local congregational level. Churches and church leaders served by Leadership Network represent a wide variety of primarily Protestant faith traditions that range from mainline to evangelical to independent. All are characterized by innovation, entrepreneurial leadership, and a desire to be on the leading edge of ministry (211).

Their web site,, gives more information about the organization and its goals, but not even one biblical reference or any sort of doctrinal position was discovered there. The purpose of Leadership Network is given: “Our mission is to identify, connect and help high-capacity Christian leaders multiply their impact.” It is also somewhat odd that a secular publisher, Jossey-Bass, would pick up a religious or Christian series of books.

The work has an excellent subject index, but no bibliography and no indication that the authors cite significant sources. It has no footnotes, endnotes, or anything other than a few passing references to two authors (Ken Blanchard, 17, and Peter Drucker, 106) and two others (Linda Karlovec, 13, 150, and Ron Rand, 23). The authors also apparently assume their readers will immediately recognize the latter two, giving only the profession of Karlovec and no information at all about Rand.

The writers take an egalitarian approach to pastoral roles, acknowledging that, “We are ever mindful of the fact that women and men fill the pastoral and lay leadership roles in the church today; therefore we have tried to be inclusive throughout the text” (9). Such “inclusiveness” tends to manifest itself in the book by an annoying shift from masculine to feminine pronouns, sometimes within the same context.

The writers begin with an assumption, without offering support, that most churches do not have a plan for pastoral transitions and that, for the most part, they are unwilling to discuss the issue until it is too late (2). The book begins with the “story” of Meadowbrook Church and its pastor, Pete, who decides after a ten-year ministry to look for a new church and depart. He does, and leaves nothing but chaos in his wake (2-5). The authors present that scenario as “typical” of churches and something that needs to be addressed. They then present their perspective on how pastoral transitions should take place. They state, “Succession planning is the second most important need in every church in the country (well trained and committed pastoral and lay leadership that is culturally relevant being the first), and few if any do it well” (5). That these are the two most important needs in “every church in the country” is dubious and really exposes the most significant weakness in the book.

Another glaring problem with the work is the complete lack of biblical references, discussion of ecclesiology, and theological perspective of any kind. Except for a couple of passing references in Chapter One (“Principles of Transition: Jesus Style”), it has only a single reference in the remainder of the book, a brief quotation from a verse in Proverbs (117). The only other place where Scripture appears is in brief quotations that appear at the top of each chapter heading. Despite the assertion on the dust jacket that the authors are “firmly rooted in Biblical principles,” no evidence of a biblical principle is apparent. If the authors have developed some principles on pastoral transitions, they fail to share them.

Another disturbing problem is the omission of the biblical requirements and qualifications for pastors. The key passages in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 are not referenced. The authors present a model church in the following terms:

When the church configured its staff it chose a staff heavy in lay professionals and light in ordained clergy. It then offered a significant body of training to both staff and ministry leaders. Staff members were trained in total quality management, with skills in teamwork, collaborative decision making, problem solving, customer service, coaching, strategic planning, listening, confrontation, assertiveness, rational emotive self-management, gift assessment, and personality inventory. Ministry leaders were given similar training, with more emphasis on strategic thinking, goal and objective development, prayer and accountability. A churchwide organization of ministry leaders was put in place that met quarterly to set goals, evaluate progress, celebrate victories, learn from mistakes, and receive ongoing training (170-71).

Though replete with management fads and buzzwords, this “model” church contains no mention of training in the Scripture, a theological core, or the ability to preach and teach the Bible. In another place the authors give what they view as the six most important things to ask pastoral candidates: “discover their knowledge of the best practices in six critical areas: Worship, Adult learning, Youth ministry, Fundraising, Mission, Evangelism” (184).

Likewise the work has no discussion of the biblical role and mandate for the local church. In terms of ecclesiology, the authors seem unaware of denominational differences within Protestantism and even that there is an essential difference between Catholicism and Protestantism in terms of the local church and its actual operation. Though it is true that they are writing a “generic” work designed to have a broad appeal across denominational and associational lines, the overall work is so generic that it has almost no practical value.

This review could enumerate other problem areas, but the above suffice. The book could have been a useful tool for local churches and their leaders to manage and even plan for pastoral transitions. Unfortunately, the lack of core theological and biblical principles related to pastoral ministry and pastoral qualifications renders it useless.