I still remember sitting in our church conference room during what seemed to be a normal staff meeting. We went through the agenda, shared prayer requests from our congregation, and walked through the calendar of events and details we were planning. At the end of the meeting, our pastor began sharing information about a new assignment the Lord was opening for him. As he explained that he was moving to another state and becoming the pastor of another church, my mind began to race. Selfish thoughts of, What is going to happen?, “How does this affect my ministry?, and the fear of the unknown all collided into a puddle of tears as I made my way to my car and started driving to lunch. I called my pastor’s wife and could barely speak through the tears of saying, “I know this is from the Lord, but I’m really going to miss you.”
It was a rough day, but a reminder that leadership changes, whether they are in ministry or in your work, are going to happen. It’s a natural part of God moving people, directing their lives, and placing them in various roles to accomplish His purposes. Even so, those changes often result in fear, apprehension, and an overall uncomfortable position both for the one experiencing the change and the one affected by it.
I think one of the best examples of leadership change happens in the pages of Deuteronomy 34 and Joshua 1. Moses, the leader who brought the Israelites out of Egypt, has died. The baton has been handed off to Joshua, and even though Moses had paved the way for his people, he would not be the leader who would take them into the promised land. We find Joshua standing ready for the journey, yet the Lord would need to give him some leadership reminders that you and I can still incorporate today.
First, you can grieve when changes in leadership occur. The ending of one season and the beginning of another give us a chance to pause and mourn the fact that change is difficult and emotional. The ending of one leadership era is a time to reflect on the good and the difficult. It’s a time to consider that the leader might be grieving the change while walking in obedience toward a new assignment. You need to recognize that change can be difficult. So, walk in the sadness when it’s appropriate, but rejoice that this change didn’t catch God by surprise. I’m sure Joshua grieved the loss of his mentor but also grieved that things were not going to be the same.
Second, changes in leadership give us an opportunity to trust the Lord. Over and over again, the Lord told Joshua He would not leave him or abandon him. Joshua 1:8 ends with this reminder, “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (NLT). In the midst of change, you can rest in the promise that God is present. He is working and is not silent. And when we rest in this fact, we relinquish the desire to be in control of the situation and are reminded that change is not about us, but about God’s plan. And His plan is always for our good and for His glory.
Third, changes in leadership give us an opportunity to grow. Change brings challenges, but it can also develop your leadership skills. Joshua was now getting to put into practice all of the lessons Moses had taught him. Instead of watching from the sidelines, Joshua was now the one leading the people. God had prepared Joshua, and now it was his turn to guide the Israelites to trust the Lord for victory and possession of the land they had been promised.
After our senior pastor left, I had many questions about how my role would be affected. I also wondered about my future and how this leader had promised I would move forward in a ministry calling. But the new pastor who came several months later saw my potential to move into an expanded ministry role. God used a leadership change to align my gifts and abilities into a new assignment that gave me more opportunities.
In addition, when you are in the middle of a leadership change, you might be presented with new assignments or responsibilities. Instead of fighting against additional work, lean into the possibility you are learning new skills that will help you grow.
Finally, leadership changes can give you an opportunity to build new relationships. When I moved from Oklahoma to Nashville seven years ago, I left a lot of lifelong relationships that had deep roots. Moving to a new city and a new leadership assignment was both exciting and terrifying. But one of the greatest gifts the Lord has given me is the expanded network of friends and connections across the country.
The song I learned at summer camp as a little girl that says, “Make new friends but keep the old; one is silver and the other gold,” is a reminder you don’t have to relinquish relationships when leadership changes happen. With every leadership change I’ve encountered, whether it was my leader who changed or my assignment that shifted, the people I’ve met have greatly enriched my walk with the Lord.
Walk in confidence the next time you encounter leadership changes and watch the Lord work. He already is.
ABOUT KELLY KING
Kelly is the Manager of Magazines/Devotional Publishing and Women’s Ministry Training for Lifeway Christian Resources. She is the author of Ministry to Women: The Essential Guide to Leading Women in the Local Church and contributor to the Lifeway Women’s Bible, as well as the Lifeway Women Advent and Easter studies. In addition, she is the cohost of the MARKED podcast for Lifeway Women. She has a Master of Theology degree from Gateway Seminary and is currently pursuing her Doctorate in Ministry degree.