Pastoral succession in independent Pentecostal churches is a challenge because unlike in traditional and classical Pentecostal churches where there is a periodic succession system depending on individual polities, independent churches have no pastoral appointment system. They have one pastor who leads the church whether as a founder or a long-term serving pastor, who will be succeeded only at retirement, at death or in case of a moral failure. These successions are contentious and some have resulted in court cases. Succession is a challenge in any organization or group whether it is religious or secular. The challenge of succession becomes bigger when the leader is a founder or serving a long term, in an organization. The question this research hopes to answer is: what is the cause of these contentions when it comes to succession in independent Pentecostal churches? Are these contentions caused by a lack of a written succession plan? When the successor is finally appointed, what makes it so difficult for a church to accept their newly appointed leader?
The aim of this research is to facilitate a smooth transition during succession by investigating the causes of contentions, through a literature review, a qualitative research that has been conducted through interviewing 31 individuals that were purposively chosen from founders, successors and congregants. The grief theories by Kübler-Ross, Kessler, and by Hamman, have been used to guide the study to find a pastoral methodology that will journey with those who have been negatively affected by the succession. Grounded theory was used to generate a theory that may emerge from the collected data, through a process of open coding where all categories that came from the data were listed. Those categories that were saturated from the listed were selected through a process of axial coding. Finally, the emerging theory revealed the inability of the founders to mourn their loss of financial security, prestige, privileges and significance; causing them to procrastinate or delay the drawing of a succession plan.
Instead of doing the work of mourning concerning their future losses, by talking and planning about succession, most founders and long-term serving pastors avoid the subject until their demise comes. Others remain grieving their loss but they never mourn. The difference between grieving and mourning is that the former is about the normal experience of emotional, physical, spiritual and relational loss whereas the latter is a process of letting go of the past losses in order to find a new identity. In grief there is a sense of being stuck in emotions of loss and even drowning in them. In mourning there is a deliberate intention to go through losses with an objective to find closure.
This unfortunately lives the congregation in a state of loss, which they do not know how to mourn. The inability of the congregation to mourn their loss further complicates the process of succession, which leads to contentions for the seat of successor even resisting an appointed successor. A healing methodology to assist leaders and congregations in grieving their loss has been proposed.