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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

03 Feb '11

A test of character

How we leave our ministries when our time is up is a test of our character and emotional intelligence. One of the greatest gifts my predecessor gave to me was his absolute full support, commitment to pray for me every day and never to criticize my leadership – even though he knew that I would bring significant change – building on the gains he had made during his tenure. Because of his wholehearted support I felt free to ask Ben to serve as a Global Ambassador for the mission after his retirement. Ben demonstrated to me how to leave and I fully intend to follow the wonderful example he gave me.

Let’s be honest! What Ben did in his transition of leadership is hard. We pour ourselves into our role, we do our very best and then one day our time is up and we must humbly give to another something that is very precious, knowing that some things will now be different. It is far easier to be impressed with our own moves and success than the decisions and success of another.

Pastoral transitions are no different. We leave behind a web of long relationships and it is easy to subtly undermine our successor when we hear complaints from friends that things are not like they used to be – as they never will be. When we get pulled in after we leave, when we subtly criticize or even sympathize with our former parishioners we are guilty of sowing discord and division and we hurt the Bride. Humble and gracious leaders never hurt the Bride, or undermine their successor. Those who do, do so out of their own pride and insecurities.

Perhaps the most difficult transition and test of our character is when we leave because we are asked to leave. No matter how it happens, that hurts and our lower nature wants to bite back and hurt those who have hurt us. It is easy to do, it is commonly done and again it hurts the Bride. Sometimes it is to defend ourselves or our reputation. Yet, it never works to defend our own reputation. God can do that but we cannot as David says so well in Psalms 37 and 73. Furthermore, things do become clear in time. God has a way of redeeming even those things that are painful in the moment for His glory.

As a leader I have had on occasion needed to move people off of my staff. Sometimes, just because it was no longer a good fit as the nature of the organization changed. I have watched staff respond with great dignity, trusting God to go before them.  I have watched others leave in great anger and I have watched some act with dignity in public and sow discord behind the scenes. Each response is an indication of the true character of the staff member. When we intentionally hurt the ministry we worked for, we are hurting the ministry of Christ. 

My model is my predecessor Ben. He taught me how to both leave well and to support the one who takes up the baton when I am gone. I want to be their greatest cheerleader when that time comes.