Succession Planning

Succession Planning

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April 25, 2020

A Word from Pastor Matt Heard, Lead Pastor

Hello Northland Family,

First of all: please know my continued care and intercession for you during this Coronavirus pandemic. Today, may each of you experience our Head Shepherd’s strength, refuge, and enoughness!

As you might have already heard in the service this weekend, we are in the process of shifting into a higher gear of preparing for and solidifying Northland Church’s long-term future. Even if you’ve just started at Northland in these last couple of years, you’re aware of our church’s rich ministry legacy. After Dr. Joel Hunter’s final weekend as Senior Pastor in the fall of 2017, a weekend in which we celebrated his amazing and fruitful ministry spanning three decades, we transitioned into a new chapter, building on that foundation with a new vision: Engaging People to be Fully Alive in Jesus. For Arlene and me, it has been an amazing honor to come alongside and serve in this revisioning season.

For these last two years, I have been privileged to serve as Lead Pastor in anticipation of the day when Northland could gain the right footing to launch into a search for a longer-term leader. While Arlene and I came as long-time fans of Northland, we also knew we were not the answer for Northland’s long-term future. That was the basis for the contract agreement which has been ongoing for two years and will be completed June 30, at which time I’ll shift off of staff and out of my role as Lead Pastor to one of being a part of the preaching and teaching team. Given all that we’re dealing with as a church—as well as a culture—in the midst of this pandemic, I assured the board that I would not just disappear on July 1 upon the completion of my commitment, but would be willing and available to continue to serve in whatever way they deemed best.  

With the inauguration of a succession planning process, Pastor Gus Davies will bring his wonderful, pastoral heart to shepherd Northland as Interim Senior Pastor while the groundwork and consequent search for a long-term Lead Pastor begins. Meanwhile, I will continue to preach as part of the preaching and teaching team, but not as often as has been the case these last two years. (This summer, I’ll not be preaching during the month of July but will be back the weekend of August 1.)

With this transition, I’ll also look to relaunch Thrive—my ministry focused on bringing the message of the Life of the Gospel to the broader church and beyond. While at Northland, I have essentially put Thrive on hold, but will now pick that calling back up and would deeply appreciate your prayer and continued partnership in the Gospel.

It is the hope and view of many that we’ll be on the other side of the Coronavirus pandemic by the end of June but, nevertheless, I want to take a moment to address the question, “Why now?” That has certainly been a topic of conversation but as the elders processed, there was an acknowledgement that neither the contract date nor the pandemic are surprises to God. In light of that, the view was adopted that He has, in essence, pressed a pause button for all of us and we should use this time to listen together. Out of that posture, the decision was made to go ahead and stay with the original end-date of the contract.

Though I am changing roles and my frequency of being with you, this is not “goodbye.” But I still want to take this opportunity to convey my love for you and how grateful and humbled I am to explore and experience the Life of the Gospel alongside you. You are a beautiful, powerful part of the body of Christ and it is a delight to occupy some of the same pages of God’s great Story with you!

His Grace and Life to each of you,

A Word from Danny Gordon, Governing Elder Chairman

Hey, Northland Family!

Over the last 20 years of attending Northland and serving though the Married Young Adults Ministry (MYAM), Transformers, leading a home group, and serving as a Governing Elder, my love for our church has grown wider and my appreciation for the pastors, elders, staff, and congregation has grown deeper. I am excited to have been recently elected as the Chairman of the Board of Governing Elders and my wife, Nichole, and I are truly looking forward to serving the church in this capacity together!

The last couple of years have been a time of transition for Northland. We are so thankful for Pastor Matt and his wife, Arlene, for all they have invested here. In leading us through this time, Pastor Matt has served as a stabilizing influence and an energizing Lead Pastor and teacher. Many of you know he set aside his personal ministry, Thrive, to step into his role here at Northland. His willingness to answer that call helped us experience, in a new way, what the Life of the Gospel looks like through his stewardship of our vision, Engaging People to be Fully Alive in Jesus!

During this time, Pastor Matt served under a contract agreement in anticipation that, at some point, we would enter into a succession planning period and begin to dream about who our next long-term Lead Pastor would be. Pastor Matt’s current contract comes to fulfillment on June 30 of this year, a little more than two months from now. In light of that, we’ve been in discussions with him about next steps for us as a church.

After seeking the Lord’s guidance and through much prayer and fasting, we decided to let the completion of his contract be the impetus for us to enter into the succession planning period while having Pastor Matt continue as a part of our preaching and teaching team, even beyond his contract end date.

So, what does this mean for you as our congregation? Many things will not change for you at all with many continued ministry opportunities for you to connect, serve, and grow in your spiritual walk with Jesus. With regard to weekend services, in the short term, we are planning for there to be minor impact on what you experience as you engage in amazing worship led by our worship team and are shepherded by Pastor Matt along with other Northland pastors and visiting teachers. In the longer term, we look forward to and are praying together for who our next Lead Pastor will be.

In anticipation of the season to come, we are excited to announce another one of our beloved Northland leaders, Pastor Gus Davies, will be assuming the role of Interim Senior Pastor to shepherd our staff and congregation through the succession planning period.

Many of you know Pastor Gus well—as part of our Northland family since the 1990s, he has served in various capacities including his current role as Missions Pastor. His thousands of touchpoints with the Northland congregation and the surrounding local community spans four decades and includes countless hospital visits, weddings, funerals, classes, along with active leadership in local interfaith councils and many other Central Florida networking groups.

Before coming to Northland, Pastor Gus served as Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Freetown, the National Director of Youth for Christ-Sierra Leone, and the President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Sierra Leone while teaching at Sierra Leone Bible College. Pastor Gus is a man of prayer, discipleship, and shepherding. We look forward to tapping into his leadership as we dream about what the future holds for us as a church. You can learn more about Pastor Gus here.

Please join me in thanking and praying for Pastor Matt, for his leadership through this season and for what is to come, and praying for Pastor Gus as together we pursue the Lord’s will for our next season as His church called Northland!

Serving Him together,

A Word from Pastor Gus Davies, Missions Pastor

Beloved Northland Brothers and Sisters,

Jesus Christ, The Chief Shepherd is the Head of His Church. He is the Rock, our firm foundation and He has called us to build up each other so that we advance His Kingdom.

My wife Jeneba and I have raised our now two adult daughters here for the past 22 years. Jeneba is involved in the Children’s ministry and other groups in the church and community. Our daughters experienced children’s ministry, youth and some college ministries right here. One of them actually met her husband while they both served our congregation. We continue to receive nurturing and discipleship in God’s Kingdom while serving. Thank you all for transforming our lives.

Thank you, Northland staff! Your perseverance and diligence during this time have not gone unnoticed. We’re here to serve the congregation—and you have done and continue to do just that.

Northland Family, thank you for your continued generosity and faithfulness to the work God has done and is continuing to do through His church called Northland. As we move into this new season together, let Northland be the church we all build together—going out and bringing back those waiting and ready to be fully engaged with the Life of the Gospel. Let us invite those not yet included in God’s Kingdom to come and follow our Savior.

John Tardonia, Kevin Urichko, Rob Hemphill, Sean Cooper, Marshall Hall, and Nathan Clark—it is a privilege to serve with each of you, along with your wives. As pastors, we have a high calling to serve and care for our souls, then tend to God’s flock by shepherding and oversight. This is time to seize the moment for collaborative and complementary servant leadership for our elders, staff, our congregation, community, and beyond. You and I are to humbly model the meaning of a team approach as we will accomplish more for the Kingdom together than we could ever accomplish alone, all as we faithfully magnify the power of the Holy Spirit within us. Let us be known as pastors who make disciples.

Thank you for your role in the last two years and the many years before joining the staff. You and Arlene have played an integral part in this season at Northland. Engaging People to be Fully Alive in Jesus with the Life of the Gospel will always flourish here! We are grateful for your continued teaching and preaching. We will continue to build the Church of Jesus Christ on your faithful teaching. Blessings on you!

You are prayerfully and strategically moving us into the path God is continuing to pave for His Church. Thank you! You have affirmed my calling as pastor to shepherd and give oversight during this transition. Your invitation will release my passion and gifting to complement others as we all serve together. I am excited to work alongside Kirk Leff who continues as our COO. His own abilities, skills, and knowledge in business complement my pastoral calling. Together our teams will work very hard and do our best for the praise and glory of Jesus Christ.

I humbly accept this role as Interim Senior Pastor. It starts with my own self-care for the Life of Christ in me. I ask the same of everyone. We must prayerfully pursue an emotionally and spiritually healthy staff and congregation in order to faithfully advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Someone said, the Church is not built upon the gifts and talents of the few, but on the gifts and sacrifices of many! We must humbly accept this is why Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to His Church.

As we live out our vision of Engaging People to be Fully Alive in Jesus, we must recognize the Biblical mandate for the Church: to make disciples of all the nations—introducing them to the Life of the Gospel and showing them how they can live that out in their daily lives.

I prayerfully identified these three priorities and will explore these with our pastors, elders, staff, and congregation with absolute dependence on God.

“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.” – Colossians 1:28-29

Brothers and sisters, let us take this time to dig deeper into the scriptures—praying, listening, and waiting on the Lord for our part in His mission. Pray with us in this next season for our church. Let God meet us where we are seeking Him and by the power of the Holy Spirit we will follow and together advance His Kingdom.

The Lord bless and keep you in all His ways,
Augustine “Gus” Davies


We anticipate you may have clarification questions about this transition. We've answered those below.

How often will Pastor Matt be preaching?
Pastor Matt will continue to preach regularly through June. Then, other members of our preaching team will be scheduled for the month of July. Pastor Matt will return at the beginning of August and he will preach about a dozen times between then and the end of the year.

When will this transition take place?
Pastor Matt’s contract comes to completion on June 30 and Pastor Gus will be the Interim Senior Pastor on July 1.

How can we show our gratitude to Pastor Matt for his leadership and teaching during this time of transition?
You can send personal notes of encouragement to both Matt and Arlene to And, you can pray for his personal ministry, Thrive, that God will provide resources and opportunities for them to spread the Life of the Gospel beyond the walls of Northland.

Succession planning is mentioned in these letters. What does that look like?
Currently, a Succession Planning Committee is being formed. It will include a diverse group of individuals—elders, pastors, staff, and congregants. The Governing Elders hope to have the members of this committee finalized in early May. This committee will determine how we go about searching for our next pastor.

Does this change mean Pastor Gus will now preach most weekends (like Pastor Matt)?
No. Pastor Gus will be the shepherding leader and pastor of Northland and he will form a teaching team that will preach on weekends. This team will consist of many of the pastors you have heard from in recent years, including Pastor Matt, along with additional guest preachers and teachers.

Who will be leading Northland moving forward?
We continue to be an elder-governed church. As Interim Senior Pastor, Pastor Gus will be responsible for leading Northland. He will be complemented by our COO Kirk Leff who will be leading the business aspects of Northland, under the authority of Pastor Gus.

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