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  • Grace B-P Contributor

When It's Time to Pass on the Baton: Succession Planning in the Bible-Presbyterian Churches in Singapore.

Updated: Feb 3

By Rev Tan Eng Boo

I did my Doctor of Ministry (DMin) dissertation on this topic with the Singapore Bible College in May 2017. It was my desire to do research on why the Bible-Presbyterian (B-P) Church had been slow in succession planning. Many pastors are aging. I also wanted to see how I can do so for Grace church as I aged.

Since the founding of the B-P church in 1950, the denomination has not seen a succession plan taking place. 2016 was the first time that an attempt was made to survey B-P pastors on this issue. It was a challenge for me as the denomination has been very fragmented since the dissolution of the Synod in 1988, with new splinter groups arising until 2015. A pastoral transition has not been the norm for the denomination, hence there is no succession planning. The founders were determined to serve in the same church until the end of their lives. There were no plans for anyone to take over their place. Their church may have assistant pastors, but these will remain as assistants to them.

Succession planning must be intentional.

Most pastors are not prepared for it as I can see it in our denomination. But God’s word reminds us to be prepared.

One Biblical example of this task is MOSES (Deuteronomy 3:23-28)

“And I pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying, ‘O Lord GOD, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what good is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.’ But the LORD was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me. And the LORD said to me, ‘Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again. Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan. But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he shall go over at the head of this people, and he shall put them in possession of the land that you shall see.’

When I conducted the survey in 2016, the actual number of B-P churches was uncertain, but I managed to take a survey from 23 pastors in 19 B-P churches. It is interesting to see most of the pastors surveyed are for succession planning, but the majority do not have any concrete plans for it. They see the biblical basis for it but stop short when it comes to implementing it. In fact, very few pastors have implemented it.

In the survey, there were only three churches that have done well in handing the pastoral baton to the successor or were actively pursuing it. There is one church that had succession done only to see that successor leave after two years. It was a sad episode of this church, as it left the church without a pastor. The age of the churches covered in this survey ranged from eight to 65 years old. The oldest pastor in this survey (at that time) was 76 years old, and the youngest was 47 years old. The length of service in the pastoral ministry ranged from 52 years to two years.

Grace church and pastoral succession.

I joined Galilee BPC in 1960, when the church was just founded so I am very familiar with the founders and pastors of the B-P Church. There is no such thing as pastoral succession to these pastors.

From Galilee church to Grace church:

To make the story short; God, in His sovereign plan brought me to Grace BPC in 1978. It was meant to be a two-year secondment to Grace church, but I ended up being the pastor in Grace all these years.

In 2016 when I started to work on my dissertation on Succession Planning in the B-P Church, I was convinced that I needed to do so. This dissertation cannot be for my doctoral degree only, it must be put in practice. Seven years have gone by since I graduated in 2017. We have since looked at a candidate who was with us for two years, but it did not work out. We will continue to search for the Lord’s choice (the candidate must be a Bible college or seminary trained person).

While we have not found a candidate, I will still provide pastoral care and ministry in church. The word “retirement” for a pastor is not in my vocabulary. A pastor does not retire, he continues to be a pastor, because of his calling, wherever he may be. I will continue to serve the Lord if I have the health and strength to do so. But the pastoral baton will have to be given to the person whom the Lord will bring, in His time, to pastor Grace BPC. We must pray earnestly for this matter

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