Change and Your Relationships
One element of transition that certainly applies to everyone is the fact that change is not a private matter. Your moving to the next level will impact the other people in your life—your spouse, your children, your church staff and business or ministry team.
In the mid-1970s, I became senior pastor of Trinity Christian Centre in Singapore. It was a small church when I started, but over the years, it grew to become one of the largest churches in the nation.
After I had been pastoring for a few years, I began to realize that I needed to prepare for a transition in the church's leadership. Although I was not planning for it to happen in the immediate future, I knew the day would come when I would step aside, and someone else would become the senior leader. I also realized it was going to take years for this to become a reality.
My transition took at least 10 years. Ideally, if you are in pastoral leadership, you want approximately five years to watch the potential new leader develop and to check his or her character and motives. Then for the next five years, you would want to prepare the person to handle the pressures and the scope of the position.
If you are pressured into a shorter time period, know that the transition might be bumpier than a well-planned shift in leadership. You may find it more difficult to groom the new leader in all the areas necessary for successful transition.
Those of you who are pressed for time should seek the help of someone from the outside who has made a successful transition. Look for an individual with a strong apostolic anointing in this area for spiritual guidance and wisdom.
In Singapore, by God's grace, I understood that transition would take time. I started very early because I wanted to make sure that the leadership transition went smoothly and would result in greater blessings for the new leader and for the congregation. My approach has always been to develop leaders, so instead of resigning from the church and leaving them to search for a new pastor, I began to take note of various people on my staff who might be qualified for the position. I started doing this years before a new pastor would be needed.
Over a period of time, from a pool of possible candidates, I identified the man whom I believed to be God's choice to lead the church. I worked with him and helped him learn the things he would need to know as the senior leader, although he was not aware that he had been chosen as the new leader, until the last three years before my departure.
I encouraged him to develop skills he had not needed before, and I made sure he had new opportunities for interaction with our large staff, the congregation and leaders. Everyone needed time to adjust to the coming change. And the church needed to get to know and love the new leader through personal contact with him, and familiarity with his preaching and leadership styles.
By the time the transition actually took place in 2005, the new leader was equipped for his new position, and the congregation was eager to embrace him. Under his leadership, the church is growing, thriving and impacting more lives for God than ever before. Along with God's grace and the leading of the Holy Spirit, a deliberate, strategic process allowed enough time for a successful transition.
You may be thinking, But I am not a pastor, so how can this help me? It can help you see the deliberate process involved in transitioning effectively. In my case, there were many others who needed time to prepare for a change in leadership: the board, pastoral staff members who had served with me for years, other levels of leaders who had served faithfully and the whole congregation.
For you, it may be your spouse, extended family members, your children, neighbors and friends. Remember, transition is never a private affair, and the preparation it requires for everyone involved cannot happen hurriedly.
In God, even the longest wait has meaning and purpose. He redeems time and restores the years the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25). You can have confidence that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28, NIV). Not one minute of your seemingly protracted journey is a waste of time. See it instead as a priceless opportunity for learning and growth.
Anyone familiar with the human body knows that a woman cannot give birth to a child the week after she becomes pregnant. Her body needs time to stretch and adjust to the new life that is forming within her. Her mind needs to get used to the idea of being a mother, and she probably needs to prepare her home for the presence of a newborn.
At the same time, one week after conception, no one can tell whether an embryo is a boy or a girl. No matter how much the new parents would want to buy clothes and paint a nursery right then, it is best to give the baby time to develop so the parents can make the right choices about those things.