Transition Thursday: The Importance of Passing the Baton Well

Passing the baton in a relay race is the most critical part of the race. It happens three times, and each pass impacts the race. When it’s done in a smooth, swift manner, precious seconds are gained. When the transition is rough, it slows the pace of both runners and valuable time is lost. If the baton is dropped, the whole relay team loses.

They say that practice makes perfect, and this is paramount for a relay race. Sadly, there have been some horrendous baton mistakes in recent Olympic races. Can you imagine working for years to get to the Olympics, only to watch your hopes of a medal vanish in seconds? It happens.

The passing of a baton is a good illustration for a transition of leadership. When it’s done well, the benefits are immense. When it’s done poorly, the losses are incalculable.

The transfer process

Reading through 2 Chronicles, in the midst of genealogies and royal histories, the Lord opened up some thoughts for me about transition of leadership.

The transition of power from King Solomon to his son Rehoboam is a clear example of how not to do leadership transition. Let’s be honest, for anyone who has gone through a transition of leadership in any field, it can be tricky and difficult for everyone concerned.
When it comes to spiritual leadership, especially pastoral leadership, transition is difficult, and costly when not done well. The fallout of a failed or troubled transition affects the people in the church and community, as well as, the immediate leadership involved—pastors, elders, the board, and ministry leaders.

A lack of wisdom

This is the first in a three-part series on transition of leadership. This post will look at the immediate context of a young leader stepping into the very large shoes of a bigger-than-life leader, namely, King Solomon. The text is 2 Chronicles 10:1-19.

After King Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam finds the people of Israel coming with a request. They express how difficult it was for them living under the strong-handed leadership of his father, and the cost it required. They request a lighter burden to bear in exchange for loyalty and continued service.

Rehoboam seeks the counsel of his father’s advisors who suggest he grant the people’s request and the people will be faithful and loyal as his servants.

But Rehoboam is not satisfied with their counsel, so he seeks out his own advisors—those who’ve grown up with him, his peers in experience and age. Their counsel is to be even more harsh than his father had been. So, when the people return for the king’s response, they are met with a harsh rebuke.

The people responded with rebellion! When the king refused to listen to them, they abandoned him, or as others have said, they voted with their feet.

The right person

Why did this happen? Many answers could apply, but here are a couple of observations.

Rehoboam was no King Solomon. He didn’t have the stature, wisdom, nor leadership gifts of his father Solomon. Four decades of full-time ministry taught my wife and I that one person cannot be replaced with just anyone. There is no magical transfer of leadership gifts and capacity.
In fact, we found that two or three people were needed to take the place of another who served in a major role for a significant time. Primary leadership (as a director, pastor, etc.) is certainly not just a hole to be filled. It requires more than just a warm body. It requires the right person. Wisdom and discernment are needed, as well as clear guidance from God.

The right time and the right way

Rehoboam refused to really listen to the people and consider the implications of what they were saying. A common problem for many young leaders is to try to bring change too quickly. Another problem is trying to lead with the same style of leadership as someone else. Neither is wise. When I prepared to turn over the church I planted in the late seventies, to join another ministry overseas, I had a simple prayer request. I asked the Lord for a man who had senior pastoral experience to come take the church. I saw enough failed and troubled church transitions to know the consequences of inexperience.

I wanted to have a clean hand-off of the baton of leadership. Thankfully, the Lord answered my prayer, and the church saw no downturn in giving or attendance, and the church experienced strong growth within months of the final transition.

How can it be done well?

In the next installment, I’ll ask some specific questions related to transition of leadership. General principles can be gained through examples in the Bible, but specifics for each transition need more consideration, and plenty of prayer.

In the meantime, to get started in that direction—

What is God showing you through this text (2 Chronicles 10:1-19) about leadership in general?

What experience do you have witnessing or participating in a transition of leadership (at any level)?

With Trip Kimball’s permission this is a repost from his blog, Word-Strong. Along with his family, Trip planted a Calvary Chapel in 1978 and in 1990 took them to the Philippines as missionaries. There in Asia he was used by God to not only establish Rainbow Village for abandoned babies, but serve in equipping hundreds of national pastors and church planters. Currently Trip serves from his Florida home as a mentor with CCPN, as an integral part of Poimen Ministries and continues to equip leaders in the States as well as in missionary settings.

A Leader Passionately Prays

Nehemiah 1:11c For I was the king’s cupbearer.

Every great story has a beginning. The book of Nehemiah is a great story full of amazing leadership principles and great accomplishments —but it all started with Nehemiah praying. Don’t overlook this. Nehemiah passionately prayed. Before the great accomplishment of a wall being built, the restoration of a ancient city, families being restored to their homeland and the rise of a great leader, it started with prayer. It started with God.

Prayer is simply talking and listening to God. As we pray to God, we are aligning our hearts to His will, and we get to know Him in a closer way. This is why Jesus prayed, “not my will, but your will be done,” before he endured the cross. So we also pray according to God’s will. Many even say the words “in Jesus name,” which is another way of saying “according to your nature and will.” We take all sort of circumstances, situations, and emotions to God through prayer and allow His will to be done and pray for His plan to succeed.

Often, when we hear successful stories of leaders, we want to learn from them so we can succeed as well. We learn that Nehemiah wasn’t a great commander or leader in the nation of Israel, he wasn’t even living in the Jewish nation at the time. He was simply working as the cupbearer for King Artaxerxes in a foreign land. Although he didn’t seem like the greatest candidate to lead the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, God had great plans for Him to accomplish this great task. We see His journey start with him praying passionately to God for the nation of Israel, and as he prays, God starts to align his heart to His plan to restore His people, the city and rebuild the wall through Nehemiah. I believe Nehemiah’s success started with the secret Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:6 “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”

Don’t miss how this book starts off. In Nehemiah chapter 1 we see Nehemiah passionately praying. If you want to lead well, it will be good for you to pray to God as well.

If you want to lead well, it will be good for you to pray to God as well.

Luke 14:11 ”For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Pastor Daniel Williams serves at was used of God to plant Redemption Church in Delray Beach, FL, in 2011. You can read his blog and follow him on Twitter, @pastordwilliams

Book Review: What Makes A Leader Great

Russ Crosson is a committed follower of Christ and president and CEO of Ronald Blue and Co, LLC one of the largest financial advisory firms in the U.S. provides a fresh and Biblical perspective on leadership in the marketplace and ministry. There are a plethora of resources on “How to lead” or “What a leader should do.” There seem to be very few that focus on why we lead. 

In considering why we lead, Crosson suggests a rarely heard clarion cry: we lead in order to replace ourselves. At the end of the day we are not successful leaders unless we have successors. He challenges leaders who are not actively and intentionally preparing the next generation of leaders. The most effective leaders are those that realize their mission is not about them but those that come after them. Those leaders realize that they are dispensable, so they plan ahead by training those who will one day take their place. 

At the end of the day we are not successful leaders unless we have successors.

The book provides a humble narrative with a strong biblical foundation as Crosson describes his journey to discover what makes leaders great. I think it is a particularly helpful resource to our movement in our history. As relatively new movement we are now reaching an age where several leaders and pastors are contemplating leadership transitions. This is a great resource to discover some of the dangers of not being prepared; and a fantastic tool to discover how to be more effective in preparing. In a nutshell the author is recommending preparing today even when one does not anticipate the succession plan to unfold for many years to come. 

In the context of church planting it provides a paradigm for leadership that champions the development of next generation leaders from the organization’s inception. Thus leaders and followers who become future leaders not only discover why but will also be blessed to learn more effectively “How to.” 

I’ve ordered several copies for core leaders at our local church and highly recommend that you read this book as well.
Pastor Bruce Zachary planted Calvary Nexus in Camarillo, CA and is the director of Calvary Church Planting Network. Many of his resources are available for free online, including Kingdom Leaders and the Church Planting Manual. You can follow Pastor Bruce on Facebook.