By Warren Bird
He came as a 29-year-old, Louisiana-born, itinerant pastor’s son. But before retiring in 1990, Gardner C. Taylor (1918-2015) had pastored Concord Baptist Church of Christ, Brooklyn, NY, for 42 years. During that time he led the church to national prominence both in its local impact and in the civil rights movement. Repeatedly honored as one of the country’s best preachers, his powerful voice influenced generations of preachers from all backgrounds. “Doc Taylor,” as he was known, was also a role model and mentor to many young pastors, from Martin Luther King Jr. to the man who would be his successor—Dr. Gary V. Simpson.
Gardner C. Taylor
“Whenever Dr. Taylor walked in a room, people knew they were with someone special,” Pastor Simpson commented in his funeral eulogy. “When you sat down with him, you were the most important person in the world at the moment, and that was part of his greatness.”
But that was not all this giant in the pulpit was known for. “Most people know him for his preaching but if you look around this block you will see so many institutional responses to the things that assaulted the very lives of people in our neighborhood,” Simpson also explained. During Taylor’s tenure at the 2,700-seat church, he helped create the Concord Federal Credit Union, a church-sponsored elementary school, home services for the elderly, senior residences, foster care services and other neighborhood resources.
Dr. Gary V. Simpson
When Gardner Taylor retired at age 71, Concord Baptist could have had its choice of prominent pastors in their 50s, 60s, or even 70s. Instead, the historic congregation again went for a far younger candidate. It called 27-year-old Gary Simpson to be its tenth pastor. Simpson had previously served the church for 5 years (1984-1989) under Taylor before being called back as senior pastor. In Simpson’s 25-plus-year tenure to date, he is leaving his mark and carrying on that same spirit of mentoring young ministers that he was groomed with by creating programs such as the pastoral residency program hosted by Concord.
My Research: 22 Years Is Average Age Jump
Clearly the Taylor-to-Simpson handoff was a success, even though they were 44 years different in age. When I interviewed Simpson for what became the book, Next: Pastoral Succession that Works, he spoke of the many stages and ways “Doc Taylor” had mentored him. Some were almost like father to son. In more recent years, it was friend to friend.
According to research I did for Next, looking at roughly 100 prominent successions, I found that the average age difference is 22 years between outgoing and incoming senior pastors, thereby aging the church at least one generation younger through the succession. This is not right or wrong, but I can also observe that the bigger the age gap between outgoing and incoming pastors, the more change will come with the transition–a subject that I will address in other “succession” blogs in this series.