There are seasons of leadership transition in every local church—changes with pastors, elders, staff members, and other key leaders. Whether it’s a result of retirement, moving on to a new ministry or call from God, or even due to a consequence of sin, every church member will experience a leadership transition at some point. But when you’re a leader in the church family, transition can be particularly complex. You need to take a balanced approach with your personal and public thoughts, reactions, and responses. So how do you walk through a season of transition with honor and faithfulness to both Christ and the people in your church family?
I believe the ultimate answer is this: Focus on the glory of God. Bringing glory and renown to the Father is Christ’s ultimate purpose as He builds up His Father’s kingdom, so it should be ours as well. We see this focus clearly portrayed as Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane hours before His death:
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:1–3).
But while focusing on God’s glory is a simple answer, the reality of living it out isn’t as easy. Let’s consider what it may look like through our thoughts, attitudes, and actions.
Focusing on God’s Glory with My Thoughts
God’s glory should begin as a choice we make in our minds. Hopefully, that choice will be in response to the love we have for God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). But it remains necessary to choose God’s glory with our minds even when our feelings or attitudes may be struggling.
All throughout the Bible, we’re commanded to know and remember key truths—both things that happen in our minds—and then respond with an action or a change of attitude.
So if we choose to focus on God’s glory in our minds and “take every thought captive to make it obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5), then the anxious, selfish, angry, or doubtful thoughts we may—or more realistically will—have as we walk through transition can be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit and the Truth of God’s Word.
Focusing on God’s Glory with My Attitude
As we choose to focus on God’s glory with our thoughts, it should in turn shape our attitude. But too often there’s a disconnect between what we know to be true and our attitude about that knowledge. A simple example: I KNOW I need to exercise. However, when I’m tired and feel like sleeping in, I don’t really care about exercise. I have a bad attitude about what I know is best. The better choice would be to allow my knowledge to shape my attitude, get out of bed, and head to the gym.
In the same way, we’ll be able to focus on God's glory when we allow Truth to inform our attitudes. If we choose God’s glory in our minds, then our attitudes will honor both God and others as we act, speak, and respond. Even though we may experience concerns about what the future holds, doubts about how the transition is being handled, or even hurt from those involved, our attitude should be that of Christ Jesus:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:5–8).
Focusing on God’s Glory with My Actions
As our thoughts and attitudes become focused on God’s glory, then any action we take—in word or deed—should glorify God as well. During a leadership transition, there will inevitably be extra planning, duties, and meetings. If our focus is on something other than God’s glory, then we may do those things poorly, with a bad attitude, or maybe not even at all. But when our focus is on God, our actions and positive words about the transition are ways we can display Christ.
Being a leader during a time of transition can be a heavy load. But with the Spirit’s help, we can resist the urge to focus on that load or even on ourselves. If we want to honor Christ, as well as those who are stepping into new roles or out of old ones, then our hearts, minds, and actions have to come together with Him at the center.
We can’t say we want to glorify God and honor the people involved then fall prey to the temptation to focus on our own feelings. Instead, by focusing on God’s glory, we have the privilege of putting Christ on display so we can adorn the gospel in everything (Titus 2:10). We have the opportunity to lead by example and challenge others to the same. This is a healthy working of the family of God!
The next time you face transition in your church (and it will come!), embrace the privilege of being part of God’s plan. He will give you wisdom and perseverance as you walk through this change, so that in the end, His kingdom will be strengthened and His name will be glorified.