How to Make Smooth Leadership Transitions

Moses then summoned Joshua and in front of everyone said, ‘Be strong! Be courageous! – Slide 3

Leadership has always been an interesting topic for me. Does the Bible talk about it? I think it does. There are many leadership lessons in the life of Moses and Joshua. In this post, I’ll specifically discuss about Leadership Transition – How do you transition effectively from the current leader to the next leader?

I’ve seen churches or ministries fall apart when the current leader steps down because the transition is weak or even absent.  I’ve seen the bitter fruits of a lack of clear succession planning. I’ve seen irresponsible leaders leaving “time bombs” for the next leader to pick up to their own peril. But I’ve seen when good transitions take place, the whole organisation soars to greater heights.

Let us look at this poignant passage:

Then Moses said to the Lord, “O Lord, you are the God who gives breath to all creatures. Please appoint a new man as leader for the community. Give them someone who will guide them wherever they go and will lead them into battle, so the community of the Lord will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”

The Lord replied, “Take Joshua son of Nun, who has the Spirit in him, and lay your hands on him. Present him to Eleazar the priest before the whole community, and publicly commission him to lead the people. Transfer some of your authority to him so the whole community of Israel will obey him. When direction from the Lord is needed, Joshua will stand before Eleazar the priest, who will use the Urim—one of the sacred lots cast before the Lord —to determine his will. This is how Joshua and the rest of the community of Israel will determine everything they should do.”

So Moses did as the Lord commanded. He presented Joshua to Eleazar the priest and the whole community. Moses laid his hands on him and commissioned him to lead the people, just as the Lord had commanded through Moses.

Numbers 27:15-23

We can draw 4 key steps from God’s instructions to Moses.

1. Ask God for a Leader (v15-17)

The first step to seek God’s will. Moses did not just assume or push his own agenda of who to take over. Even though Joshua was a clear candidate, being his assistant for many years. Moses prayed to God for the right person for the work ahead. If you facing a leadership transition, don’t just rely on portfolios or the general consensus. Ask God. Ask God, the creator of all human beings, to show you a person who can guide and shepherd the community. I believe God will answer us if we don’t harbour biases. Leave the choice to God. Don’t delay, don’t grumble. Trust God.

2. Publicly Commission the Leader (v18-19)

Next, once God has shown you the next leader,  publicly commission them. It wasn’t a hidden affair but Moses made it known to the High Priests and the people. Once God has shown you the next leader clearly, introduce the person to the whole community (both the leaders and the people). Make sure all know of the fact. No one should be able to say that they didn’t know about it and therefore will not submit. It should be a formal commissioning event with the laying on of hands. We pray and support the next leader together and ask for God’s help.

3. Transfer some Authority to the Next Leader (v20)

Next, Moses transferred some authority to Joshua “so the whole community of Israel will obey him”. If you give a person with a position but no authority, people will not respect her (I’m assuming it’s a she). He remains just a figurehead or puppet for the current leader. You don’t want that. You have to let people recognise and adjust to her authority. Give her some authority and responsibilities even before you pass the reins over so that the people will get used to her leadership. Neither do you want to give all your authority even before you transit. That’s irresponsible. The next leader is new and is still learning. You want to slowly release your authority as she grows. This is opportune time to move to the next step.

4. Prepare the Next Leader (v21)

Moses taught Joshua how to seek God’s direction for the community by approaching the High Priest. Similarly, the current leader must teach the next leader what to do. How to make good decisions. How to shepherd the people. How to avoid leadership pitfalls (no “time bombs”!). In Kungfu movies, the Master normally keeps one secret fighting technique so that the student cannot overcome him. That’s not how we work. We want to teach them all we know and set them up for success. All this smooths the leadership transition process in a God-honouring and people-respecting manner.

Try applying this leadership transition lesson to your own church, ministry or organisation.

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