Training of next generation of sons to lead church began 7 years ago
On Sunday (September 7, 2014) Pastor John Scholtz, who has led Harvest Christian Church, Port Elizabeth, for the past 18 and a half years, passed the baton of leadership to his son, Pastor Mark Scholtz, in the culmination of a succession process that began seven years ago.
A number of city church and ministry leaders as well as five of the six members of the apostolic leadership team of Church of the Nations (COTN), the family to which Harvest relates, joined the poignant celebration service where Pastor John was honoured for his leadership of the church and Pastor Mark was officially recognised as the new Senior Pastor.
John, who was a medical doctor for nearly 20 years before he became Senior Pastor of Harvest, will continue on the church eldership team on which he has served for 30 years but he will focus more on the extensive outside work of Harvest and on the international work of COTN.
“I love the church, the people, everything to do with it and handing over has been emotional. But I am excited for the future and I know that God has spoken,” said John in an interview days before the passing-the-baton service.
Reflecting on milestone developments during his term of leadership he said: “There were two things that God spoke to me very clearly about. The first one was that He was going to turn the church upside down. I never understood that until I understood that what He had done was to change our corporate structure — the very foundations of the church were turned upside down and we’ve come to understand family and what it is for fathers to raise sons and to release them.
“We were fairly corporate in structure but now we simply see ourselves as family – and say that if you really want to understand church then you have to understand family because that is the Hebrew model of it. And I think that has helped us enormously.
“The second really big change was when I felt God say that I needed to hand the church back to the people. I wasn’t quite sure how to understand that, except that it was an understanding that it wasn’t going to be the government of the church in that sense but the ministry. And so when we gave the people the right to be the ministers of the church they began to be involved in all sorts of things. This created an explosion of outreach from Harvest and an involvement in all kinds of mission outreaches and ministries and things which in many ways we simply host – we don’t oversee or govern them but we do give pastoral care to the folk who are involved.”
John said the “two big shifts” were not without challenges “but they have really brought a great peace and freedom to the church. And so we have seen people step up and take responsibility and do things for Jesus which has been wonderful”.
Commenting on the succession process that was launched seven years ago he said: “Some years back, together with the guys who were in senior leadership with me, we made a decision that the best thing we could do with the rest of lives was to pour pour ourselves into the next generation and to raise them up to take over from us and to run further and faster than we have. And so we set about training up the next generation of sons in the house.”
John said the senior leadership team began grooming a group of sons for greater leadership and handed over more responsibility to them in the day-to-day running of the church. It was a case of one team handing over to another team while still remaining involved.
“We recognised that we need the wisdom of the older but we also need the passion and the energy of the younger generation. And so we set about releasing them to become all that they could be. And we will still continue to support them and be part of the process.
“We knew that one of them would emerge as the son who needed to take over the church and that God would show us in time,” said John.
“Over time we as an eldership recognised that the mantle was falling on Mark. We all came to the conclusion that he was the right person. That in itself was difficult because one could easily be accused of nepotism. But I certainly had nothing in my heart to groom Mark above the others. I tried to be fair in the process and we all came to the same conclusion in the end that God was appointing him to take over. The fact that he is a biological son is a bonus!”
John said he feels called to focus the rest of his life on serving the broader Body of Christ, imparting his experience to leaders in order to help them grow their churches and fulfill their callings.
During the same interview, I spoke to Pastor Mark, who said that seven years ago, when he left the world of business to join the Harvest administration staff he had no idea what God had in store for him.
“When I took the [administration] job, I thought I was going backwards because I had left business to go into ministry and felt very soon I was just back in the business world but in a different context.”
But he said that with hindsight he can see that God had a plan in everything. From the start he had a ministry outlet producing a CD of his worship songs. He got opportunities to travel to promote the CD and lead worship and preach at various places. He led worship at Harvest and later joined the Harvest preaching team. As the church administrator he was involved in every facet of running the church from finances and budgets to staff issues.
“It [administration] has been a good training ground — in fact the best,” he said, adding that he was grateful that God had shielded him from seeing the future leadership role he was preparing him for. “I may have become frustrated if I had realised 7 years ago. Because I wasn’t ready then.”
Mark said: “The truth is that I only knew for sure that this [leading Harvest] is what I was called to probably 8 to 9 months ago, when we made the call as a leadership and an eldership and then God kind of opened my eyes and I realised what had actually been going on. I felt like I was the last one to figure it out!”
Looking ahead he said he and the other ‘sons in the house’ who have been released into leadership will now carry the weight of running and governing the church but with the safety factor of having the older generation on the eldership team.
He said the younger team members have been part of the journey of shaping the vision and goals of the church over the past 7 years. “So we’re not taking the reins and deciding now that we can go where we wanted to go because we now finally have the control. It’s more a case of pushing harder and faster in the direction we were already going.”
Both John and Mark said that the church has been aware of the process of raising and releasing sons and so it was not a major surprise when the transition plan was announced to the congregation on May 4 for the first time. However they said the were still surprised at just how smooth the transition has been. The said the congregation is excited and welcomes the change and they have received no negative feedback.