Leadership transition in the local church has always been a matter of concern and anxiety among church members and pastors. A number of pastors are uninformed on how to make transition when time comes
to say good-bye to a local church. Due to lack of planning, ministers have ended up destroying the good work of many fruitful years of their labours. The leadership baton must be passed on to the men we have trained over the years. The passing on of the baton is a metaphor from a relay race, where a round cylinder is passed on to the next in the game. The technic and the rule of the relay race is that the runner who is about to finish his part of the race has his eyes fixed on passing the baton. The runner about to take over the baton provides the target with the correct hand in an appropriate position. The incoming runner’s job is to place the baton in the correct hand of the outgoing runner. You do not just throw it or drop it for the other to catch or pick. It must be passed on properly. That is the rule and the goal of the game. In the management of people, it is leadership that is passed on to the next person, and preferably to a younger generation of ministers through mentoring and developing them as leaders. Unfortunately, the traditional practice in a number of Baptist churches is for the serving outgoing minister to have nothing to do with the next incoming minister. There is no preparation done in handing over leadership. The belief (which is correct) that God is the owner of the church and he will call men to occupy the office has negatively affected many ministers. It is important to note that the practice where the outgoing minister has no part in the leadership transition is foreign to the Bible.
Who must receive the leadership baton? No matter what stage of leadership one is in or the length of time one has been in a leadership position, there is need to think about how the leadership baton 9
will be passed on when that time comes for one to move on. A good transition plan makes all the difference.

The ministry of Paul presents a good example. He purposefully invested in potential leaders like Timothy and Titus. Prominent of these persons is
Timothy whose narrative we see from Acts 16. Paul wanted Timothy to
accompany him. He had a vision to invest into his life. We later read Paul
acknowledging the great investment Timothy’s grandmother and mother had made in Timothy. Then he speaks of his own leadership investment in Timothy (2 Tim. 1:5; 2:1–2).
Leaders have a responsibility to identify protégés, disciples, trainees-–
whatever name we would call them to whom the baton must be passed in future. This is what Paul did. He identified a disciple named Timothy and had a commitment to invest in Timothy’s life. Paul took Timothy to be with him, spent three years preaching and teaching in Ephesus and the surrounding areas and eventually handed the pastoral baton to this young man who became pastor of the church in Ephesus. Paul was intentional and the time he spent with Timothy enabled him to discover, discern and know what the young man was capable of doing. When the time of his departure came, he knew who was to take over.
Hence, the encouragement and charge to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2. This, in a nutshell, is a leadership passed on to a future leader.
There is also what I call the generational passing on of the leadership
baton. Passing the baton to another leader is one thing, but passing it on to the next generation is another. It is important to be strategic and discerning as we pass the leadership baton on. Paul demonstrates this in his choice of Timothy and Titus. These two were definitely of a younger generation. He invested in these two younger men of a different generation. He worked with them to establish churches at Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea, to mention a few. In short, they did ministry together (Acts16:1–17:14; 17:13–15; 1Thess. 3:1–2)
Why leaders fail to pass on the leadership baton? What causes leaders to delay or fail to pass the leadership baton to the next person is a matter of serious concern and worth discussing. In Zambia for example, many of the current pioneer pastors among Bible believing churches including the Reformed Baptists answered the call to pastoral ministry in the 10
mid or late 1980s. These men are in their 50s and 60s, and most of these men have been very successful in their ministries. If we were to make an inquiry into their ministry, a good number would be found wanting in the area of intentional investing and strategically putting in motion a succession plan for the next generation of leaders. Why is this so? Rick Duncan provides some insights in answer to this question:
Ownership syndrome: A number of leaders do not believe that God can use them in another role and in greater ways than what they have traditionally known. This is especially common among pioneer leaders of churches. They suffer from the “ownership” syndrome. It is hard for many leaders to simply step away from everything they have built and invested in for a significant number of years. A change in the role that has given them credibility and value is often seen as a threat to their security and identity.
Identity problem: A ministry which many ministers would agree started as a call soon becomes a matter that gives them identity after a season of serving. “Pastor” (the office) becomes the name. The vocation becomes synonymous with their identity. In other words, the leader’s identity is so wrapped up in what he does. One writer says, “These individuals often do not want to leave because they do not know who they are outside their role as pastor.” Leaders with this identity problem do not realise that God can do more through them without positional authority of being called a pastor. They miss the point that relational and spiritual authority is much more powerful and effective than positional authority. So, they hang on to the leadership baton. Such leaders need to take an inventory of their matured abilities, sharpened gifts and vast experience and make joyous transition in investing in others. Capacity myth: This is the problem of leaders who think that as long as they are still alive and have the energy, there is no need of passing on leadership to the next generation. They overestimate their own ability and underestimate the ability of the next generation of leaders. They want to maintain control and power and often deceive themselves that they still have the energy to complete their unfulfilled to-do lists.
The financial security factor: A number of ministers and leaders hang on to the baton because they are financially insecure. The majority of pastors
serve faithfully in churches with numerous financial challenges due to low
11 income, needs of the family, and medical and school expenses. This makes it hard for them to move on or develop other leaders to take over from them.
Resistance to change: This is a prejudiced mindset common among
veteran outgoing leaders who think and act as though there is no one else who can do it the way they have been doing it. They may agree that leadership development is important but there is a resistance due to the biasness seated in them that the younger or next generation will dismantle and change what they have built after so many years of hard work.
How to pass on the leadership baton
Let me conclude by highlighting some key principles that pastors can put into practice as they transition out of the ministry to give chance to the next leader.
I am working with an assumption that leadership in the local church comprises a team of elders. My other assumption is that within the elders there is one financially supported elder often designated as “pastor”.
Once the pastor knows it is time to move on, either to a new station or
retirement into something else, he should immediately put out a succession plan.
Here below are some of the things a pastor is expected to do as part of the
transition plan. This is not an exhaustive list but a guide for a good transition.
• Communicate to the leadership team your intentions and allow them to
speak into the matter: Bring them into the conversation and avail
yourself to their pastoral counsel as your fellow leaders. The other
leaders should speak into your move.
• Identify with the leaders a potential successor: I have argued in this
article that the biblical model for transition is to pass the baton to
someone. There is need to have one internal successor prepared to
hand over the baton to. Regrettably, this is not the case, many leaders
neglect this part of their job. Basically, not having prepared at least
one successor during our ministry is a leadership failure. If leaders
will know that they are actually sharing in the building of Christ’s
church, they will also think beyond their tenure of service.
• Prepare a transition succession plan: Once the leadership team and the
church begin accepting the news that you are leaving, put in place an
12 extended succession exit plan. The leadership needs to set a timeline
that will serve the church well by gradual transitions, which will lead to
your decreased participation and involvement in the life of the church. “You shall invest him with some of your authority, that all the congregation of the people of Israel may obey” (Num. 27:20).
• Clarify with integrity your relationship with members: Ministry is about
people with whom the pastor has built deep and intimate relationships.
He has been involved in various important aspects of their lives. Some people will feel guilty and vaguely responsible for his leaving. The pastor should realise that sometimes the congregation as a whole may feel rejected even if the congregation knows that the pastor is moving on to another leadership responsibility. Especially in the case where he is moving to another church, members feel that their congregation is less important than the next one that the pastor is moving to. There is need for clarity on the move and being honest about the relationship the pastor has built among the members. There is need to assure the congregation of its importance and uniqueness. Openly appreciate and celebrate their ministry individually.
• Work on healing of relationships and any existing conflict: During the final months, the pastor should attempt to heal strained relationships with members who may have negative feelings towards the transition. That is why it is important to talk about transitions with the church and not just privately with the other leaders. Attending to the people’s feelings and pain will give the outgoing pastor an opportunity to shape a positive future when he is gone. Let me conclude with words of wisdom on this matter from one unknown writer. He says, “Creating a seamless succession can be a challenge. But done successfully, it may very well be one of the greatest rewards you will experience as a leader. For leaders, a transition will be one of the greatest tests of your leadership and it will also serve as one of the greatest rewards and testimonies of your legacy.” He goes on to say, “a smooth handoff requires meticulous planning and forethought. Yet most leaders put off even thinking about leadership transition until they are faced with a situation where they have no choice but make a change.”
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Bibliography
Boersma, Anthony J. M. 2007. Moving on Moving Forward. Grand Rapids:
Zondervan
Duncan, Rich, blog www.cvconline.org
Mcgehee, Fred. 1978 February 24. Christianity Today.
Mullins, Tom. 2015. Passing the leadership Baton. Nashville: ThomasNelson.
Vanderbloemen. W & Warren, Bird. 2014. Next Pastoral Succession that
Works. Grand Rapids: Baker Books