Transition is a demanding and unsettling season in any church or organisation. We in Newfrontiers have just experienced our most significant phase of transition when, as the original founder of the movement, I have handed over the leadership to the next generation.
Sometimes the metaphor of passing the baton is used with its unsettling challenge that races are often won or lost on how well the baton is passed, fumbled or even dropped.
Many models might be considered ranging from business practice when a fresh CEO is brought in to take over a company or a soccer manager switches from club to club with the hope that his particular magic will transform the team’s performance and results. Evidently leadership is very relevant throughout scripture, from the raising up of key leaders such as Moses and David to the calling and appointment of the 12 apostles. In times of transition God’s guidance is sought and found. God tells Moses to approach Joshua; David confidently tells Solomon that God has chosen him and similarly God tells Elijah to appoint Elisha in his place.
The King is dead; long live the King!
Undoubtedly there should be no confusion as to where the buck stops and who is now leading. Overlap periods can be helpful, but only to ensure that the baton has been safely passed, not so that two centres of gravitational influence are at work in the same room. Where decisions have to be made by the team with its new leader we don’t need the former leader in the room with everybody trying to interpret his body language.
What should be retained?
If a movement or local church has enjoyed fruitfulness and blessing, it would be wise to ask why? What values have been undergirding the blessing which it has been enjoying? So the upcoming generation, who may well see need for change or fresh developments, would be wise not to abandon thoughtlessly key principles appreciated by a previous generation. What has been fundamental and what is incidental? What walls are load-bearing? Which would be disastrous to adjust or remove?
Fresh face but consistent values
Paul urged his friends to embrace Timothy as they would have embraced him and argues that Timothy had served with him as a son with a father and that he knew his ways in Christ. He understood key issues and what matters and what is peripheral. How important is continuity to those who follow or belong to the enterprise? How much change will people embrace or will they feel that the number on the bus has so changed that they will jump off at the next stop?
Same flock but new Shepherd
The ultimate model for leadership in the Bible is the Shepherd with his sheep. This constitutes the fundamental leadership metaphor with its ultimate reality, “My sheep know my voice and follow me; another voice they will not follow.” Here lies the essence of the challenge of transition. Will they follow another voice? Of course these are the words of the unique Shepherd, the one who stood with unrivalled shepherding skills and who drew unrivalled devotion and loyalty from his flock. The wise leader today will not allow himself to be seen in similar manner or expect the same dedication from his followers.
Teamwork plays a big part in time of transition
Eldership in the new Testament is always seen to function in plurality. Teams of leaders are safeguarded from the challenge of transition from one supreme leader to another because of the strength of plurality, so that one exclusive voice is not replaced by another. In a context of teamwork transition is safer to handle.
In any transition no one should assume that he automatically has the trust of his followers. Trust and security have to be won. Wise leaders proceed with caution, humility and grace, believing that God will gradually realign people to have confidence in their leadership as they begin to display their own character and leadership gifting in the context of values held dear and purpose pursued albeit with a fresh voice and a fresh face leading the way.