Leadership Transition (Part 10 of 10)

Editor’s Note: This is part 10 of a 10 part series on pastoral leadership that I am writing for my seminary class, Leading Christian Communities, with Dr. Kyle J. A. Small. My reflections in this series are based on the project “Learning to Follow, Learning to Lead” (2012) by Dr. Megan Mullins & Dr. Kyle J. A. Small, which assessed seven competencies for the practice of pastoral leadership. 

One thing on my mind lately is leadership transition. This is something that I wish we would have spent more time discussing in class. As I am interviewing for different pastoral positions, in most cases I will be filling a position that a different pastor previously filled. This awareness is so important. In the immediate transition, this fact alone will shape expectations (of both myself and others) and potentially help or hinder the beginning of new relationships.

Pastoral leadership transitions take on their own flavor, but we all experience different types of transitions throughout our lives. I will be transitioning out of the role of president of Western Theological Seminary Student Council and a new, immensely more capable president will begin his service. You may experience transition in jobs either for yourself or for coworkers; moreover, you will more than likely also experience pastoral transitions within your worshiping community.

One of my favorite leadership transitions in the Bible is the transition from Moses to Joshua. It provides such a rich illustration of one generation calling to the next, honoring the past and encouraging the visionary future.

Moses says to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 31:2,

I am 120 years old today. I am no longer able to go out and come in. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not go over this Jordan.’

Moses recognized (as in, he is honest enough about his self awareness) that he is no longer able to lead the people—his body is frail. I am confident that he was still a spiritually, mentally, and emotionally capable leader, but it is a valuable lesson to understand that he is ready to pass the baton because he is physically incapable to lead (in fact, he is about to die).

Fruitful leadership requires the health of our full being: spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally. We cannot separate these into separate aspects of life, even though that is how we commonly affirm different leaders in our contemporary context. We like to follow leaders who are extremely gifted either physically or mentally or spiritually, but our hearts are often not attuned to the completeness of a leader’s whole being. Knowing this, a great leader knows that sometimes great leadership is knowing to pass the baton when one of these components of life is not well.

In a time of transition, a great leader also knows that she or he will most likely not lead into the full consummation of the visionary future. In this passage, Moses will not lead the people of Israel into the promised land, and he certainly won’t lead into the consummation of the fullness of all time.

I once heard Dr. Frank Yamada, president of McCormick Seminary, speak about generations. In the American culture, each generation stands on its own, seeking its own best interests. But in many Asian cultures, there is significantly more cross-generational interaction and blessing. The older generation knows it has tried its best to live life well, and they more readily look to the next generation for leadership into the future. Great pastoral leaders not only foster the health of their congregations, but they are able to bless the next pastor to lead even more fruitful growth.

Moses encourage’s Joshua and the next generation of people a few verses later in Deuteronomy 31:7-8,

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Most importantly, we must not forget that the Lord is the one who is, and was, and is to come—the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. So let us venture into tomorrow’s journey following Joshua’s encouragement,

Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you. (Joshua 3:5)



Read the rest of the 10-part series on the practice of pastoral leadership:

  1. Pastoral Leadership (21 February 2013)
  2. Organizational Leadership (28 February 2013)
  3. Learning Leadership (7 March 2013)
  4. Public Leadership (14 March 2013)
  5. Collaborative Leadership (21 March 2013)
  6. Reconciling Leadership (28 March 2013)
  7. Resourced Leadership (11 April 2013)
  8. Sacramental Leadership (18 April 2013)
  9. Pastoral Leadership II (25 April 2013)
  10. Leadership Transition (2 May 2013)

About Joshua

Joshua is the lead pastor of Massapequa Reformed Church (RCA) on Long Island, New York. He and his wife Kathryn have one young daughter. He loves coffee and board games, ice cream and sports—he's an avid fan of the Green Bay Packers, UConn Huskies, Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers.
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