Chuck Swindoll Steps Down as Senior Pastor, but Won’t Reti…… | News & Reporting

Chuck Swindoll has said that pastors “should never retire,” and the 89-year-old won’t be stepping away from the pulpit even as his church welcomes his successor.

Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, announced this week that Swindoll will transition to founding pastor, continuing to preach on Sundays, as Jonathan Murphy becomes its senior pastor on May 1.

“This is a very unique way of expanding, of ‘moving into another chapter,’ as we often call it here,” said Swindoll in a video clip alongside Murphy, a Belfast-born preacher who currently serves as chair of pastoral ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary.

With over 60 years in ministry, Swindoll is the oldest megachurch pastor in the country and one of the most influential. He has been vocal about his plans to remain active in ministry until his death.

“One of my great goals in life is to live long enough to where I am in the pulpit, preaching my heart out, and I die on the spot, my chin hits the pulpit—boom!—and I’m down and out,” he said at age 75. “What a way to die.”

In his new role, Swindoll remains Stonebriar’s regular preacher, while Murphy leads day-to-day ministries and fills in to preach when needed, according to the church’s announcement.

“We have the founding pastor being able to continue to preach as long as the Lord would have, and I can have a season as a senior pastor taking responsibility for the staff and caring for them and the ministry direction of the church at large,” said Murphy, who has been a guest preacher at Stonebriar and serves on the board for Swindoll’s long-running radio ministry Insight for Living.

The two have been preparing for the transition for several years, with Swindoll befriending and mentoring Murphy. The church’s elder board began considering him as a senior pastor candidate in 2022 and decided last month to bring him into the new role.

Swindoll will remain an elder, and Murphy will also join the elder board. “At the appropriate time in the future,” the church said, Murphy will also become the church’s primary preacher.

Megachurch researcher Warren Bird and William Vanderbloemen, the authors of Next: Pastoral Succession That Works, have written that an “intentional overlap plan” seems to be the strongest model for transition.

“Today, many long-term pastors experience a period of overlap with their successor as a way to help both the congregation and themselves adjust to the transition. It also allows a safety net if the transition hit unexpected challenges,” Bird, the senior vice president of research at the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, told CT. “A ‘known’ leader is often the successor, in this case someone who’s been a guest preacher from a nearby seminary much esteemed by the congregation.”

According to Bird, preaching is often the last duty for an aging pastor to relinquish.

He said that Swindoll’s setup at Stonebriar is similar to other long-serving megachurch pastors in their 80s, such as at First Baptist Atlanta, where Anthony George was announced at Charles Stanley’s successor years before Stanley stepped down at age 87. (Stanley also said he didn’t “believe in retirement” and continued his work at In Touch Ministries.)

The need for pastors to make plans for their successors has only grown more urgent in the US as clergy age; 1 in 4 senior pastors plan to retire by 2030.

Last year, Swindoll suffered a fall, experienced low blood pressure, and underwent an angiogram. He was away from the pulpit in January while recovering from an aortic valve procedure. He turns 90 this fall.

While president of Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS), Swindoll helped found Stonebriar Community Church in 1998. A Texas native, Swindoll had graduated from DTS and began his pastoral career in the Lone Star State in the 1960s.

Stonebriar drew in 1,500 weekly attendees within its first six months; CT dubbed it an “instant megachurch.” At its 25th anniversary in 2023, the nondenominational evangelical church outside Dallas reported 3,700 members, 300,000 square feet of building space, and an annual budget of $17 million.

Swindoll is known for his preaching. He has twice appeared on Baylor University’s rankings of most effective preachers, and a 2010 Lifeway Research survey of Protestant preachers found he was the country’s most influential preacher not named Billy Graham.

Murphy commended Swindoll and his congregation for their love for the word. “We talk about expository preaching, but I love that they’re expository listeners,” he said. “They come ready to hear from God, not to be entertained.”

Despite Swindoll’s remarks that pastors shouldn’t retire, he has also said, “There’s nothing wrong with retirement as long as you don’t stop living for God. You never retire from the Great Commission.”

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