Would there be others who could step into the pulpit or lead? Perhaps more pertinently would there be others from within your own congregation who could do so for that time?
I'm still musing on the importance of training and equipping others in the church not only to ensure succession but also to enable us to plant new ministries in the future. Churches need to be developing preachers, home group leaders, women's group leaders, children's leaders etc... But we also need to be potential spotting new people who are gifted in these areas.
If we don't effective gospel teaching ministry will drop off. When the home group leader leaves without a natural trained replacement from within the group then the group will suffer, even parachuting someone in will compromise the effectiveness of that group for a time as new relationships are developed. When a pastor leaves the same thing happens, an interregnum is rarely a time of growth - just ask any church which has just been through one.
The remedy to this leaderless vacuum on whatever level is for us as churches to be training and mentoring others consistently and organically. Yet we fail to do so. You only have to look at the number of adverts for pastorates because the pastor has or is leaving - how much better would it be if there was a ready made trained replacement. So why doesn't this happen?
1. There is a lack of willing volunteers.
As someone who struggled for a while with the sheer biblical magnitude and accountability before God of the task of church leading I can understand an element of this. There are few people looking to take on pastorates, or even significant roles within churches.
2. There is an inertia at work in churches.
It is always easier to recognise the new comers gifts than the gifts that we have seen develop slowly under our noses. I wonder if this is one reason why churches rarely promote from within. We just don't recognise the potential and gifting someone may have because 'Why that's just little Johnie and I've known him since he used to wipe his nose on the back of his sleeve.' And so instead we pass over those relationally equipped and whose gifting has been developing in favour of someone new.
3. There is a lack of discipleship in churches.
If our response is 'That's OK for you but what about us where we have no suitable leaders to step up.' Then I think we have to examine how church is functioning. This indicates that something vital is missing in our church - discipleship. If we are not developing new leaders we need to be asking big questions: are the leaders in the church mentoring anyone? have suitable people been spotted, watched and invested in? Are the relationships among church members conducive to discipleship? How will you change that?
4. There are verses we have chopped out of our bibles
You may have reacted to that last statement - I am not questioning the bible you read but I am questioning our reading of that Bible. We would never physically take bits out but functionally we ignore some bits. Here are two I think we have cut out of our bibles:
"Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God." Titus 2v3-5
"You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." 2 Tim 2v1-2
It is our failure to sufficiently examine and act on these verses that lead us to a situation where leaders leave and there is no one to replace them, where young mums crave the support of an older more experienced head but do not receive it, where new Christians are left to muddle through, where potential leadership material is not developed and where in short we are relationally and discipleship weak.
We need to be discipling churches it will help us for God's glory avoid the drop off.