September 26, 2018

How to Approach Leadership Transitions in Ministry

Transitions can be tricky to navigate. Unforeseen complications and obstacles inevitably arise. I’ve never seen this more clearly than during my transition from the pastorate to full-time evangelism. What I learned taught me how to pray for people contemplating a move in vocational ministry. There’s no better manual for leadership than the biblical account of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. It offers valuable insights regarding how to approach leadership transitions in ministry.

First, ministry transitions should be driven by divine appointment. Moses didn’t apply for the job of deliverer; he was recruited by God at the burning bush. He didn’t leave shepherding with the desire to pastor two million people. Moses went because obedience to God was his greatest desire. It’s no different for ministry leaders today. Approaching a ministerial move with secular thinking is dangerous. We must guard against the mentality of climbing the ladder of success. The size of the ministry and the salary associated with it are not our main concern. The crucial factor is obedience.

Next, transitions tend to expose our insecurities. Even Moses was insecure in his abilities. By comparison, Aaron seemed like a better fit for the job. There was just one problem; God wasn’t calling Aaron. Whether we’re following a successful leader or not, comparisons will likely be made. The proof of your leadership is not in being different from or the same as someone else. You must be who God equipped you to be, in the place God has assigned to you. Just be gracious in handling any comparisons to those who proceeded you.

We also need to recognize that transitions can be unconventional. When you think about it, the Red Sea route was not optimal for getting to Canaan. Yet, it was the path God chose. Because ministerial transitions are spiritual in nature, the way they take shape is often contrary to conventional reasoning. For instance, obedience may mean leaving a thriving ministry for one that’s struggling or seems to have little potential. Likewise, leaving a strong, healthy ministry for a larger ministry isn’t a “no brainer.” God transitions His people according to His leadership, not by our logic.

Next, transitions make us vulnerable to fear and doubt. When Israel left Egypt, they left the familiar and feared the unknown. Fixed places are fortified with the familiar. There’s comfort in trusted relationships, along with known responsibilities and expectations. Even when we go in obedience, we may experience fear of the unknown. However, when fear isn’t properly submitted to the Lord, it leads to doubt. At times, the unforeseen obstacles caused the Israelites to doubt Moses, Moses to doubt the people, and all to doubt God. Adversity in transition doesn’t mean we misheard God. When the calling is certain, we have confidence to move through each challenge without succumbing to fear or doubt.

Finally, transitions demand humility. God proclaimed Moses to be the humblest man on Earth. Nothing displays his humility more than his response to his father-in-law’s advice. When Jethro suggested a better way to judge issues between individuals, Moses didn’t get defensive or spout his list of accomplishments since leaving Egypt. Because he knew and trusted his father-in-law, Moses listened and learned. As a result, he became a stronger leader. Trusted advisors are essential for every leader, especially in times of transition. Pray for discernment to identify sources of godly counsel and for the humility to listen and learn while leading.

Some people will agree with your move, while others will not. Many may ask if you have peace about the decision. But having assurance that you’re doing the right thing doesn’t mean you won’t experience the realities of the transition. Jesus agonized as He approached the Cross, even though He was totally surrendered to His Father’s will. Remember, obedience to God’s call is not about personal benefit or sacrifice; it’s about God’s glory. I’m praying for you.